Acclaimed portrait of black civil rights pioneer, Paul Robeson, coming to Reading this October

Paul Robeson
Paul Robeson – by Neil Libbert, 1958 ©  Neil Libbert

READING MUSEUM, working in partnership with the National Portrait Gallery, is delighted to announce its latest high-profile display, featuring a portrait of the black civil rights pioneer, actor and musical virtuoso Paul Robeson.

The display is part of Reading’s celebration of Black History Month during October. It is also part of a major project developed by London’s National Portrait Gallery. The ‘COMING HOME’ project sees portraits of iconic individuals from the national collection travelling to places associated with their subjects.

Paul Robeson concert at Reading Town Hall, May 1960.
Paul Robeson concert at Reading Town Hall, May 1960. ©copyright Reading Museum/Reading Borough Council All Rights Reserved

This year marks 60 years since Paul Robeson sang to a large and enthralled audience at Reading Town Hall; a legendary event in Reading’s history of embracing our cultural diversity arranged by the Reading and District Association for Peace.  The bromide photographic print portrait by Neil Libbert shows Robeson in 1958, the year in which his political activism had forced him to leave the United States and live in exile in the UK.

Portrait unveiling
Portrait unveiling Monday 19 October – Centre: Mayor of Reading, Councillor David Stevens joined by Cllr Karen Rowland, Reading’s lead councillor for Heritage, Culture and Recreation; Right: Victor Koroma, Alliance for Cohesion and Racial Equality (ACRE). Left: Jeff Jones, Chairperson of Reading Caribbean Associations Group (CAG).

The portrait will be on display to the public from Tuesday 20th October until Saturday 12th December 2020, available during opening hours (Tues-Fri 10-4, Sat 10-4) in the Museum’s ground floor Story of Reading Gallery.

The Museum successfully reopened with a number of safety measures in place in September and it is now possible to book a visit at: The display will also be available virtually on the museum’s website.

Cllr Karen Rowland, Reading’s Lead Member of Heritage, Culture and Recreation, said: “I’m incredibly proud that we are able to bring this important portrait to Reading as part of our Black History Month celebration.

“Besides his incredible legacy in film and music, I believe that Mr Robeson’s message of racial equality, worker’s rights, empowerment and peace-making echoes through time and it has never been more important to reflect upon this. Mr Robeson’s landmark performance 60 years ago in our concert hall was a true manifestation of how Reading has always embraced its diversity.

“I congratulate everyone involved in securing the loan of this iconic portrait by working in partnership with the National Portrait Gallery to create an even more special Black History Month celebration here in Reading. I hope as many people as possible take the opportunity to visit the museum to see this wonderful portrait, reflect on our proud Black heritage and how Mr Robeson’s ideals can guide us today. We’re delighted that the Museum is now open for booked visits at For those of you unable to visit in person, the display will also be available virtually on the museum’s website.”

The National Portrait Gallery has been collecting portraits of men and women who have made a significant contribution to British life and history since 1856.

Dr Nicholas Cullinan, Director of the National Portrait Gallery said:

“We are delighted to lend the Portrait of Paul Robeson to Reading Museum during Black History Month as part of our COMING HOME initiative. We hope that sending portraits ‘home’ in this way will foster a sense of pride and create a personal connection for local communities to a bigger national history; thus helping us to fulfil our aim of being truly a national gallery for everyone, in our role as the nation’s family album.”

For full details of the National Portrait Gallery’s ‘COMING HOME’ project please click

Join the conversation on Twitter using hashtag #Portraitscominghome



COMING HOME has been made possible by the National Portrait Gallery, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, generous contributions from The Thompson Family Charitable Trust and funds raised at the Gallery’s Portrait Gala in 2017.

Black History Month

For more information on Reading’s Black History Month, visit the Reading Culture Live website  and the Council’s website at


Victoria Nickless

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