After Richard Wood (1806-1900; see GAC 3829) was made British Consul-General to Tunisia in 1855, he purchased a house known as the Palais Ben Ayyad for the British Government from the Bey’s Treasurer, who was forced to move to France following disgrace for misconduct. The Bey agreed to bear the cost of expanding Palais Ben Ayyad and Wood added an additional wing of his own design and a dome to enclose the courtyard. The house remains one of the most unusual British diplomatic residences today. The edge of the Residence can be seen in this oil painting of c.1897 by former British Consul and amateur artist Sir Harry Hamilton Johnston (see also GAC 17675).
A painting by Hamilton in a private collection, titled 'A Berber of Southern Tunis', shows a figure standing between thick archways, which may be those on the lower level of the building.
This painting was bought by the Government Art Collection in 2007 from the private collection of Andrew McIntosh Patrick, a pioneering specialist on 19th-century art, who recognised the significance of Victorian works at a time when they were largely overlooked and unappreciated.
Explorer, colonial administrator and artist Sir Harry Hamilton Johnston studied painting at the Royal Academy Schools from 1876. From 1879, he travelled through Africa as a painter, natural history collector and journalist, journeying through Tunis, Angola and along the Congo River. He joining the consular service in 1885 and spent three years administering a British protectorate in eastern Nigeria. He later obtained treaties on which the UK based claims to Nyasaland (Malawi) and Northern Rhodesia (Zambia). He later became the first British Commissioner in Malawi and published some 40 books on African subjects. Knighted in 1896, he was Consul General in Tunis for two years and then Special Commissioner in Uganda from 1899 to 1901.
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