HC Deb 26 March 1850 vol 109 cc1426-32

moved for an account of the receipts and expenditure of the Royal Academy in each year since 1836. He expressed his regret that it was the intention of the noble Lord at the head of the Government to oppose this Motion, the object of which was only to obtain such information as the House was entitled to possess. The evidence before the Committee in 1836, showed that a fund of no less than 47,000l. had been accumulated in the hands of the Academy, which he considered must now have increased to something like 100,000l. As the noble Lord had intimated an intention of providing the Academy with accommodation after its removal from the National Gallery, and a vote would be asked for that purpose, it became necessary the House should be informed as to the disposition of the funds to which he referred. The Academy had had the use of a portion of the National Gallery free of rent, from the public, yet they had been so close, and so little attentive to the great object of promoting a taste for the fine arts, that they refused to admit the public gratis to their exhibitions for a short period after the time when payment for admissions ceased. The free opening of galleries, like Hampton Court and other places, produced an excellent effect upon the public; but the Royal Academy refused to concede any such privilege to the public, although they were located in a public building, free of expense. He must say that, under such circumstances, he would never consent to vote a single shilling in their behalf, seeing that they had now nearly 100,000l. of their own arising from the proceeds of their exhibitions, unless it had been wasted; nor until he knew whether those funds had been properly appropriated. But be the sum in hand more or less, the House had a right to know what had become of it, before any claim was made upon the public purse. He admired art, but he would not support monopoly; and he must add, that he doubted whether the system which the Academy had pur- sued, had not been more injurious than otherwise to the interests of the arts.

Motion made, and Question put— That there be laid before this House, an Account of the Receipts and Expenditure of the Royal Academy of Arts, each year since 1836, with a detailed statement of the sums appropriated to salaries, and to the various general and incidental purposes of the Establishment; also, the amount of money funded, which, in 1886, was 47,000l.


had frequently had occasion to object to the production of returns of this kind, and he remembered one occasion, when the hon. Gentleman carried a Motion of this nature, that the right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth induced the House to rescind it. The hon. Gentleman had laid no ground for the Motion. He might maintain all the opinions he had expressed, that the Royal Academy did not promote art, that it ought not to be allowed accommodation in a public building, erected at the expense of the public, and that Reynolds and all the great artists connected with it were mere daubers; but how the hon. Gentleman could maintain that the House was entitled to investigate the amount and application of the money received for the exhibition of their pictures, he (Lord J. Russell) did not understand. If the House had that power, he did not see why they should not inquire into the proceeds of every exhibition in London, and ask Madame Tussaud how much she made by her wax figures—[Mr. HUME: If you gave her a house to show them in, I would.] If George the Third and his Ministers had said to the Royal Academy, "We will allow you to exhibit your pictures in rooms belonging to the public; and, in return, we will require you to give us an account of all the money you receive"—that would have been an engagement; but there was nothing of the kind. It was evident, then, though the House had a perfect right to turn the Academy out, and say, "You shall no longer have rooms in Somerset House or the National Gallery," that right, without such a stipulation, did not give the power to ask what sums they received. Those sums had not been received from the public, but from the exhibition of pictures, which, after all, were their own property. It was true the public provided the rooms in which the pictures were exhibited, but the pictures which the public went to see were the property of the artists; and it was this which governed the question. He certainly regretted the decision of the Royal Academy not to admit the public, after a certain time, without any payment whatever; but Sir Martin Shee, to whom he had spoken upon the subject, said, the Academy, upon consideration, were of opinion that many valuable works would be injured, and that miniatures would be stolen. His (Lord J. Russell's) belief was, that their opinion was wrong; for he thought the pictures would be quite as safe with the free admission of the public as with admission upon the payment of a shilling. But the pictures being their own property, he did not see how the House of Commons could have a right to say, "You must show the pictures, which are the production of your own skill and knowledge, and from which you receive your income, at the bidding of the Crown or of Parliament, for nothing; and if they are defaced or stolen, you must take the risk." Now, the House had no power to do this. The hon. Gentleman, however, would be justified, if he thought fit, to refuse to vote for a grant of public money; and if the House should be of his opinion, the Royal Academy must continue to exhibit their pictures in the present place, until the Crown or Parliament took it away; but the House had no power to ask for the accounts in question. The fact was, this was entirely private property, and the House had no right to interfere with it.


said, that if the Academy occupied a private building at their own expense, there might be some justice in the view taken by the noble Lord; but so long as they held a large portion of the National Gallery they were responsible to Parliament. Not only were they now in a public building, but the House would shortly be asked for a grant of public money, to place them in another public building. Did not these circumstances render them responsible to the country? The Academy appeared to have a double weapon. When they were asked for an account, they said they were a private body; but when they wanted accommodation for nothing, they declared they were a public body. So that one of the legs of this huge colossus stood upon public benefit, and the other upon private monopoly, whilst the House could get no accounts in either one capacity or the other. Let the Academy declare what they actually were. With reference to the noble Lord's remark concerning Reynolds, he would only observe that it was not the Academy that made Reynolds, but Reynolds that made the Academy; and certainly until he heard better reasons for refusing the Motion than those assigned by the noble Lord, he should support it.


said, that if he felt prepared to advance one shilling of public money to the Academy, he should support the Motion, but he was not; and under present circumstances, he was surprised that the noble Lord should contemplate such a proposition. At the same time, he could not commit himself to the proposition of the hon. Member for Montrose, as it appeared to be doubtful whether the Academy was a public or a private institution. But, whether public or private, he concurred in the opinion that, for a limited period, its doors ought to be thrown open to the public. The objections against that course were absurd. If any danger were apprehended to the miniatures, they could be either withdrawn or enclosed. He wished to see the Academy removed from the National Gallery as soon as possible, because room was wanted there; but if they were, as alleged, a private institution, let them build their own chambers.


said, the Academy was established by a charter of George III., who gave them rooms in Somerset House for the exhibition of their works. Those rooms were afterwards surrendered to the public, and in consideration other apartments were granted in the National Gallery. Did these circumstances make them come under the jurisdiction of Parliament? Certainly not. They had never had one farthing of public money. The Academy had raised a school of art which was an honour to this country, entirely by their own exertions and ability; and if anybody had a right to spend their own funds as they pleased, they were that body. They sent artists abroad, and granted pensions to the widows of deceased artists; such was the mode in which they applied the funds into which Parliament was now asked to inquire This subject had been discussed three or four times in that House to his knowledge, and in every instance the decision was that the funds of the Academy were private. He was sure that if the accounts could be obtained, the funds would be found to have been disposed of economically, and in a manner that did honour to the Academy; but there were no grounds for alleging misappropriation. Parliament having no power to interfere, whilst no public advantage would be gained by the inquiry, he hoped the House would not consent to the Motion.


censured the illiberal conduct of the Royal Academy in not admitting the public free on certain days of the week, observing, that although the funds of the institution certainly arose from the payments made by the public to see the works, and although the works were those of private artists, and not public property, it should be remembered that the Academy occupied and exhibited those works in a building belonging to the public, and free of rent—a circumstance very favourable to the increase of their private funds. If any proposal should be made hereafter for a grant of public money to the Royal Academy, he should most certainly object to it, and he should support the Motion of the hon. Member for Montrose.


did not think that the hon. Under Secretary for the Colonies had succeeded in setting the question at rest whether the Academy was a public or a private body. The hon. Gentleman said that it was constituted by charter, and that apartments were granted to the body in Somerset House. How were those apartments granted? In perpetuity, or in fee. If not, by what tenure did they hold them, and who paid for the repairs of the building they now occupied? He presumed that it was the free use of the building which enabled or aided them to accumulate their revenues. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had announced publicly in his financial statement that he intended to ask for a grant of public money to the Academy; and if he (Mr. Henley) was to be called upon to consider such a vote, he should like to know something about the position of the society. The Academy already enjoyed the permissive use of a public building, and the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer declared his intention of asking Parliament for money for the society. And for what purpose? Because he wanted the building the Academy now held for another use. That being so, the public had a right to know whether this society was not rich enough to build for themselves, or whether they came without funds, and on fair ground, to ask for public assistance. Their charter had, no doubt, been granted to them for public purposes. Indeed, it was alleged to them that they pensioned the widows of artists; and sent out students to the Con- tinent —objects which might be considered of a public nature, and they had been assisted by the use of a public building in carrying out those objects. These considerations, added to the fact that the Government intended to ask for public money for the Academy, in the present state of public affairs, clearly showed that the House had a right to know all the facts.


looked upon the Royal Academy as a private body which had had certain facilities afforded them by the public; and he could not see what right Parliament had to require a return of their funds—the proceeds of their own industry—with the view of disposing of them, for that was what the Motion amounted to. If it were thought desirable, let them turn the Royal Academicians out of the present building, and let them erect one for themselves; but it was a gross injustice to insist upon their making returns similar to those which were exacted under Schedule D. He should resist the Motion, and the more because he was by no means prepared to vote for a grant of money to the Academy should it be proposed.


did not think that the charter granted to the Academy had constituted them a public body; but it was not upon that ground that he intended to oppose the Motion. Considering that the nation had only given some house-room to the artists of England, he thought it would be unjust and ungenerous to require from them an account of their proceeds, arising, as they did, not from public funds, but from the payments of private individuals. He might quote the words of Prior, which were as philosophical as true:— To John I owed great obligation; But John unhappily thought fit To publish it to all the nation; Sure John and I are more than quit. He certainly should not be able to congratulate the House, even if they obtained a triumph over the artists in such a matter.


, in reply, said, that when the Royal Academy desired to obtain public assistance, they came to that House and were ready enough to show their accounts, alleging that up to that period they had only accumulated 47,000l., and had not the means of building a house for themselves. On that plea they had been allowed to have that part of the building erected for a National Gallery, whiah they now occupied. The hon. Under Secretary for the Colonies said, that the Academy had not received public assistance. The hon. Gentleman did not seem to know the difference between money and means. Was it nothing that they had been gratuitously accommodated with a building equivalent to a rental of 3,500l. a year? The Committee which sat on the subject arrived unanimously at a decision that the Academy ought to leave the National Gallery. Let them but quit that institution and build a place for themselves, and then he would not care a pin about their accounts. As to the want of funds, he thought that if their finances had been properly managed, they must by this time be worth 100,000l.

The House divided:—Ayes 19; Noes 47: Majority 28.

List of the AYES.
Arkwright, G. Meagher, T.
Brotherton, J. Mullings, J. R.
Cobden, R. Peto, S. M.
Divett, E. Salwey, Col.
Duncan, Visct. Stanley, hon. E. H.
Duncan, G. Stuart, Lord D.
Greene, J. Thompson, Col.
Hall, Sir B. Walmsley, Sir J.
Harris, R. TELLERS.
Henley, J. W. Hume, J.
Kershaw, J. Ewart, W.
List of the NOES.
Armstrong, R. B. Hayter, rt. hon. W. G.
Bellew, R. M. Hobhouse, rt. hon. Sir J.
Berkeley, hon. H. F. Lewis, G. G.
Blackall, S. W. M'Cullagh, W. T.
Boyle, hon. Col. Morgan, H. K.
Campbell, hon. W. F. Newdegate, C. N.
Coles, H. B. Norreys, Sir D. J.
Cowper, hon. W. F. O'Connell, M. J.
Craig, Sir W. G. Parker, J.
Dawson, hon. T. V. Pelham, hon. D. A.
Duncombe, hon. O. Plowden, W. H. C.
Dundas, Adm. Power, N.
Dundas, rt. hon. Sir D. Price, Sir R.
Dunne, Col. Scrope, G. P.
Ebrington, Visct. Sheil, rt. hon. R. L.
Elliot, hon. J. E. Somerville, rt. hn. Sir W.
Farrer, J. Spooner, R.
Forster, M. Talbot, J. H.
French, F. Townley, R. G.
Fuller, A. E. Tufnell, H.
Gordon, Adm. Wilson, J.
Gore, W. R. O. Wodehouse, E.
Grace, O. D. J. TELLERS.
Grenfell, C. W. Hawes, B.
Grey, R. W. Howard, P. H.