PITT AND AMERICA

This Derby figure of Pitt the Elder, 1766, caught my eye in the British Museum: well-modelled and painted, lively posture in both the figures, large for a Derby figure and uncomfortable for the modern viewer. Who is that subservient figure?

It’s America, in an established emblem of the continent, one of the four that had been used in art for a couple of centuries. The others were Europe, Asia and Africa. Pitt had changed taxation for the benefit of the colony and here it kisses his hand. There is a similar Derby figure in the V&A where America is black. Modellers were indifferent about such matters and every continent but Europe was similar in its strangeness.

The description in the museum refers to the fact that the Iroquois Confederacy was an ally of England in the Seven Years War against the French, but that alliance does not appear to have been commemorated.

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