Every now and then the past comes back to haunt – this is what happened to me this afternoon at Leeds Art Gallery. In general the gallery is a wonderful place to visit full of different types of visual art. However one of the galleries concentrates on high Victorian art and is full of the usual suspects but the painting above dominates the room. On the face of it is yet another allegorical Victorian painting depicting some mythical story which was intending to portray some moral lesson to the viewers. However, the name of the painting, Retribution, should start to make the modern viewer a little uneasy. The accompanying note explains all.
It is very easy for the modern viewer to be shocked by such work and to be easily offended by the racist elements on display however, I think, this is the wrong way to approach this as it is a form of revisionism on the part of the modern viewer. Instead, I feel, we should view the painting for what it is, an example of cultural norms of the time and we should endeavour that they no longer form part of the way we lead our lives. The gallery should also be commended for showing the painting as a means of ensuring we understand our past and try and make it isn’t our future – whether that was the intention or not is unclear – I like to think it was.