Four views of Manacled Slave/On the Sea Shore, by John Bell (1811-1895). 1877. Bronze, cast at the foundry of Elkington & Co. H 54 x W 14.7 x D 14.7 cm. Collection: Aberystwyth School of Art Museum and Galleries. Accession no. BE39. Image kindly released via Art UK under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial licence (CC BY-NC).

Bell's anti-slavery credentials are sound: he had made a bust of the prominent abolitionist Thomas Fowell Buxton, and expressed the wish that his work "may aid in directing a sustained attention to the greatest injustice in the world" (qtd. in Beach 14). Yet how was he to appeal to people without to a certain extent idealising or sentimentalising his subject, or taking advantage of the results of slavery? As Caitlin Beach goes on to point out, his enterprise was fraught with contradictions: even "the spaces that brought his sculpture into view ... gestured to the limits and contradictions of this project" (16). These kinds of dilemmas are still very much with us today, the only sign of progress being our awareness and acknowledgement of them, and our struggles to resolve them. — Jacqueline Banerjee


Beach, Caitlin Meehye. Sculpture at the Ends of Slavery. Vol. 9 (The Phillips Collection Book Prize Series). Oakland: University of California Press, 2022.

Manacled Slave/On the Sea Shore. Art UK. Web. 18 December 2022.

Created 18 December 2022