Little Bits of History

The People’s Art

Posted in History by patriciahysell on May 10, 2014
National Gallery in London

National Gallery in London

May 10, 1824: The National Gallery in London opens to the public. It is an art museum on Trafalgar Square and houses over 2,300 paintings dating from the mid-13th century to 1900. It is also an exempt charity and a non-departmental public body as part of the Department for Culture, Media and Sports. The collection belongs to the public and entry to the main collection is free. They are open daily from 10 AM to 6 PM with three extra hours on Friday evenings. They are closed on New Year’s Day and over Christmas Eve, Day, and Boxing Day. For those not in London, it is possible to take a virtual tour at their website.

In the late 1700s, royal collections on the Continent were being put into displays and opened as museums for the masses. Munich, Florence, and Paris all had museums opened in this fashion between 1779 and 1793. Great Britain did not use this method for the National Gallery. The Royal Collection of art remains in possession of the sovereign. In 1777, the British government was able to bid on an art collection of international repute when Sir Robert Walpole’s descendants put his collection up for sale. When it was purchased, it was also suggested that it be displayed in “a noble gallery… to be built in the spacious garden of the British Museum”. Unfortunately, the collection was sold instead to Catherine the Great. Another collection came up and again it was lost. Finally, in 1823 a collection came to market and was purchased, along with the codicil of creating a space to display it. Austria unexpectedly paid off a war debt and the funds were available.

When the National Gallery opened on this day, it was in John Angerstein’s former townhouse, which was entirely appropriate as the collection purchased was his, as well. There were 38 paintings included works by Raphael and Hogarth. Over the next few years, others bequeathed collections to the museum. It moved from the townhouse to 105 Pall Mall, which was said to be a poor venue and in 1832, construction for a new building began. Building on Trafalgar Square was seen as appropriate as the site was between the wealthy sections and poorer sections of town, giving all access to the national treasures.

Today, it is the fifth most visited art museum in the world. The Louvre, Metropolitan Museum of Art, the British Museum, and Tate Modern all have more visitors. In 2012, there were over 5 million viewers making their way to the National. Two-thirds of the works housed have come from private donations. Most of the major developments in Western painting are represented in the small collection. Even with the modest number of works in possession, it is no longer possible to have all of them on permanent exhibition and they are rotated through. While entry is free, some of the Exhibition Displays do need a ticket for entrance.

True art is characterized by an irresistible urge in the creative artist. – Albert Einstein

The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls. – Pablo Picasso

No great artist ever sees things as they really are. If he did, he would cease to be an artist. – Oscar Wilde

Without tradition, art is a flock of sheep without a shepherd. Without innovation, it is a corpse. – Winston Churchill

Also on this day: I Think I Can – In 1869 the First US Transcontinental Railroad is completed.
Before Hillary – In 1872, Victoria Woodhull was nominated to run for the US Presidency.
Longest Bridge in the World – In 1969, Lake Pontchartrain Causeway opened.
J. Edgar Hoover – In 1924, he became the sixth director of the FBI.


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