The Forgotten Victorians

LUCY FISHER / Manchester

NATIONAL PORTRAIT GALLERY, LONDON Photograph of Sarah Forbes Bonetta (1862)

It's usually modern art that aims to overturn preconceptions, but a new show of 19th century paintings delivers more shocks than Tracey Emin. One revelation is embedded in the title — "Black Victorians: Black People in British Art 1800-1900." The very concept of "black Victorians" may surprise. There had, of course, been Africans in Britain long before Victoria ascended the throne in 1837, but in the 19th century they were a familiar sight — not that you'd know that from most accounts of the old Queen's reign. Yet the show's curator, Jan Marsh, discovered that Victorian art depicted many black subjects...

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