The National Gallery (in the UK at least) is a gallery that is subsidised by the government to allow the public access to art. This allows financially challenged people to gain access to art exhibitions that they normally couldn't afford to go to. The gallery has an extensive collection of art that the National Gallery has bought with their grant money. These pieces are often lent to other galleries to allow them to be seen by the entire country (rather than forcing people to travel down to London).

It is currently also trying to create an online inventory of European art from 1200-1900. This is in conjunction with other museams around the country. Andrew Greg was appointed as project leader in January 2001. So far I have no information on where this database is (they may just be working on it now).

Go to to find out more and to get opening times etc.

History of the Gallery

In April 1824, The House of Commons agreed to buy the collection of John Julius Angerstein (a banker who had 38 pictures at Pall Mall). The government payed £57,000 for the collection and, until a gallery building was built, the pictures were kept at Angerstein's house.

The pictures were purchased to start a national collection for the enjoyment and education of all the country. It had a commitment to allow free admision for all so that the poor could enjoy the art rather than just the middle and upper classes. This is something that the public in general either don't know about or ignore because a lot of the people who go to the National Gallery are often of the upper echelons of society (though schools make a valiant attempt to get children interested).

The early administration was pretty much non-existant. There was a Keeper (William Seguier, 1824-1843, was the first keeper) who did most of the work and a board of Trustees who took strategic decisions (but they met very occaisionally). A government inquiry was held into the administration and at the end of it reforms were introduced to improve the gallery's administration. There was now the position of director (similar to the National Theatre) who made most of the decisions and shaped the gallery. The post of Keeper still remained but the Director took the more powerful roles leaving the Keeper with the job of caring for the gallery.

The inquiry also changed the way in which the gallery obtained more pictures. It used to be up to the Trustees what went into the collection. The inquiry (and the reforms) altered who collected pictures from the Trustees to the Director. The first Director travelled round Europe collecting pieces of artwork for the Gallery.

The Gallery expanded further when Sir Robert Peel (former Conservative Prime Minister) let the Gallery buy his extensive collection of 77 paintings.

As the National Gallery grew in size new premises were needed to house it. A location for the new building was decided on at Trafalgar Square where it was thought all the people (of all classes) could reach easily.

The collection continued to grow and made huge leaps in size during the mid 1840's when Robert Vernon bequeathed a large collection of British art to the Gallery. These had to be displayed at Vernon's house and then at Marlborough House due to the lack of space in the National Gallery's building. This started a new trend of showing art off in different places.

In 1856, Joseph Mallord William Turner bequeathed over 1,000 paintings, drawings and watercolours. These could not be stored in the Gallery and so were stored at Vernon's house with the rest of the bequeathed paintings. In 1876 the paintings were taken back to Trafalgar Square after it had been enlarged to accomadate the paintings.

The Tate Gallery (funded by Henry Tate, a rich industrialist) was built at Millbank, a mile from Trafalgar Square. This is not the same as The Tate Modern. Just in case you get the two mixed up. This site was to house British work and was opened in 1897. A few British works remained at Trafalgar but most moved to The Tate. At first, its name was The National Gallery, Millbank (or The National Gallery, British Art) but these names were succeeded by The Tate Gallery. It stayed under the administration of the National Gallery until it was turned into an independent gallery in 1945.

The National Gallery at Trafalgar Square has been expanded many times since it was built to accomodate the amount of art that they had collected.

When war seemed imminent in 1939, plans were drawn up to evacuate the paintings. On the 23rd August, the Gallery was closed to the public and the evacuation of the pictures had started. The secret locations of their new homes were mainly in Wales though some went to Gloucestershire (they went to private houses and public buildings). The last shipment was on 2nd September the day before war was declared.

When France fell in May 1940 it was decided that the paintings weren't safe in their new havens. The scientific advisor (Ian Rawlings) was charged with finding a new haven for the pictures. On the 17th September, he discovered Manod Quarry (a slate mine). It was located in the mountains of Wales above the village of Ffestiniog (don't try to pronounce it. It was probably deliberatly chosen so that a Nazi spy couldn't tell HQ where the Gallery was).

At one point it was suggested that the paintings be moved to Canada to protect them. Churchill banned the plan stating:

"Hide them in cellars or in caves, but not one picture shall leave this island!"

The building got hit twice during the Blitz. Once on the 12th October (by a 250 kilogram bomb) which destroyed all of what is now room 10. Five days later on the 17th a smaller bomb landed in one of the courtyards. It went off on the 23rd when the Royal Engineer Bomb Disposal Squad were having lunch! More hit the Gallery on the 7th and the 15th November.

During the war the building was used to house concerts for the public. A famous pianist (Myra Hess) thought up the plan and played at the concerts. The money raised from this went to Musician's Benevolent Fund. They also spawned canteens for the people going to the concerts. The canteens were also used to feed office workers and civil servants. These canteens were kept open after the war as a restaurant to serve snacks etc.. The National Gallery tried its best to keep moral high and so had exhibitions of British art from war time artists. It also had a 'picture of the month' where a famous picture from the Gallery's collection was on display for three weeks after being brought out from the mine.

In 1946, the Gallery created a Conservation Department to take over the work of private contractors that were always used in the past. This department became well known for its advanced nature. In 1977, the department released a journal titled 'Technical Bulletin'. This helped spread knowledge of Conservation techniques.

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.