HC Deb 02 April 1824 vol 11 cc101-3

The House resolved itself into a committee of supply, On the resolution, "That 60,000l. be granted, to defray the charge of purchasing, and the expenses incidental to the preservation and public exhibition of the Collection of Pictures which belonged to the late John Julius Angerstein, Esq. for the year 1824,"

Mr. Agar Ellis

said, he could not refrain from expressing his thanks to his majesty's government for having purchased this valuable collection of pictures. He was sure that every person who was at all acquainted with the arts, would agree with him in saying, that no private collection of pictures could be better suited to form the basis of a national gallery. All the pictures were of the very first excellence. Indeed, there was not one of them which it would not be almost a calumny to call a moderate picture. He trusted that the present would form a new era in the history of the arts in this country, and that the advantage which was now given to our own school of painting, by placing before it first-rate models, would tend to advance its character and renown. If there were any gentlemen in that House who disapproved of the expense to which these pictures were putting the country, he would ask them, whether they might not be productive of emolument to the nation, even in a pecuniary point of view? What was it that attracted so many travellers to Italy, but the numerous works of genius which were contained in it? And, if a similar collection were made in London, was it not likely that a similar cause would produce a similar resort of strangers to it? He hoped that his majesty's government would not stop short in the great work which it had undertaken, but would proceed steadily and progressively in it. He would not recommend it to purchase any more whole collections: for, in all probability, they must contain many moderate pictures, and moderate pictures ought not to be found in national galleries; but he would recommend it to purchase single pictures of acknowledged excellence, whenever any such pictures came into the market. By such means, they would obtain the best specimens of the best masters, and would so erect a gallery winch would be no less beneficial to the taste, than, it would be conductive to the glory of the country.

Mr. Bernal

said, it appeared that there was to be a keeper of the gallery, at a salary of 200l. per annum, who was to have the charge of the collection, and to attend; particularly to the preservation of the pictures, and that lord Liverpool was of opinion, that the person to be appointed to this office should be competent to value, and, if called upon, to negociate the purchase of any pictures that might in future be added to the collection. Now, he really thought that a salary of 200l. was too small a remuneration to a gentleman possessing such qualifications.

Sir C. Long

spoke in terms of the strongest praise of the pictures which formed the late Mr. Angerstein's collection. They were selected by the judgment of sir T. Lawrence, and appeared, on inspection, so exquisite to his majesty, that he it was who had first suggested the propriety of purchasing them for the nation. Indeed, they were generally considered the finest models of art that could be submitted to the contemplation of the artist. He agreed with his hon. friend, that the plan which the government ought to pursue in forming this gallery, would not, be to purchase whole collections, but to buy single pictures of undisputed excellence, and that, too, at a liberal price. With regard to the remarks made by the hon. member for Rochester, on the smallness of the salary to be paid to the keeper of the gallery, he would merely observe, that the person who was appointed to superintend it was as well qualified for such an office' as any man could be, and that he was perfectly satisfied with the salary annexed to it. If, at any future time, it was found insufficient, government could ask the House to increase it. It ought to be recollected, that this officer did not give up the whole of his time to the gallery, but was only required to attend in it Occasionally. There was another officer, whose duty it would be to devote his whole time to this collection.

Mr. A. Ellis

bore testimony to the qualifications of the gentleman appointed to superintend the collection. He wished to know, however who was to superintend the superintendent?

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, the general control and superintendence would be in the Lords of the Treasury. He did not apprehend, however, that it would be necessary to exercise that control with any degree of violence.

Mr. Hume

said, that as it was at last determined to make a national gallery, and by so doing to rescue the country from a disgrace which the want of such an establishment had long entailed upon it, he trusted that responsible individuals would be selected to take care of the pictures which had already been purchased. Some regulation of that nature was rendered necessary, by the recollection of the injury which had been sustained in the British Museum by the want of it.

Sir C. Long

trusted, that he had convinced the committee, upon a former evening, that there was no reason to complain of the trustees of the British Museum. Indeed, he had cause to believe, that the hon. member for Shrewsbury who had brought forward the charge against them, was convinced that it did not rest upon any accurate foundations.

Mr. A. Ellis

was so far from thinking that there was any ground of complaint against the trustees of the British Museum, that he had been about to suggest, that they should also be made trustees of this national gallery.

The resolution was agreed to.