HC Deb 13 July 1858 vol 151 cc1380-91

The Report of the Committee of Supply was then brought up by Mr. FITZROY.

£16,474, National Gallery.

Resolution read a second time.


said, he wished to say a few words with reference to several matters connected with this Vote. In the first place he wished to ascertain what were the intentions of the Government with reference to the report of the Royal Commission which had been appointed to inquire as to the most eligible site for a National Gallery. The Commission was appointed in consequence of a Resolution adopted by that House, that it was desirable that further inquiry should take place before the site of a National Gallery was finally determined upon. In his opinion that commission had discharged its duties most honestly and independently, and its recommendation that the site of the National Gallery should not be changed had been ratified generally by the public out of doors, and, as far as could be judged from what had fallen from the Chancellor of the Exchequer on a former occasion, by Her Majesty's Government. If, however, it was decided that the site of the Gallery should not be changed, some steps must be immediately taken in order to provide space upon that site for the national collection of pictures, which was at present scattered in different parts of London. It bad been the intention of the late Government, judging from a notice of Motion which had been placed upon the paper in the name of the late Chancellor of the Exchequer, to propose the appointment of a Committee to inquire into this question, and also whether further accommodation was required, and in what manner it could be provided at the British Museum. The change of Government prevented this proposition from being submitted to the House, and the present Government determined to settle the question without referring it to any further Committee or Commission. It was, however, absolutely necessary that immediate steps should be taken to provide accommodation for the national collection of pictures. The Director of the National Gallery, in his report which appeared in the Estimates, made this statement:— The present crowded state of the pictures, and the necessity of removing many to inferior places in order to display new acquisitions, abundantly shows that the time is arrived when it is necessary that measures should be taken to build temporary accommodation for the pictures till the new National Gallery can be built. With regard to the means of providing space, under the circumstances, for pictures in the gallery in Trafalgar-square, I am still of opinion that the most feasible plan, while it would also be the least expensive, would be to add on the north side of the gallery, and on a level with the present rooms, a long room or corridor, supported on iron columns, so as to encroach as little as possible on the barracks. An estimate of the cost of such a room, about 120 feet long, was in the course of last year prepared under the direction of the Office of Works, the entire proposed cost being £3000. The Director evidently entertained a strong opinion that the time had arrived when it was necessary without delay to provide accommodation for our rapidly increasing collection of pictures. He (Lord Elcho) would suggest a very simple mode of providing the requisite accommodation with trifling expense to the nation—the suggestion having been made on a former occasion by the hon. Member for Brighton (Mr. Coningham)—namely, by giving notice to quit to the Royal Academy, which at present occupied one-half of the National Gallery. He did not entertain the slightest feeling of towards the Royal Academy, but the position of that body with regard to the National Gallery had always been false and unfair. In the first instance, a sum of money was voted for the erection of a National Gallery, but at that time the whole of the building was not required for the national collection of pictures, and at the suggestion of the architect, who was himself a Royal Academician, the Royal Academy obtained accommodation within the building. The consequence was the sacrifice of a considerable amount of space, for there were in the National Gallery two staircases, one loading to the national collection, and the other to the Royal Academy, and a great deal of valuable space was lost in the hall, which was common to both. The Royal Academy had no legal or Parliamentary title to occupy the National Gallery, and he thought the simplest course would be to give them notice to quit. Discussions had frequently taken place in the House on this subject, and in 1834, Mr. Warburton inquired of Mr. S. Rice whether the Royal Academy had any title to the rooms which they occupied. Mr. S. Rice said— He was very glad that his hon. Friend had put that question to him. An arrangement had been entered into which he supposed his hon. Friend would approve—namely, that the Royal Academy should obtain only the use of the rooms, but that the property of them should rest in the public, and that if the resumption of these apartments became desirable the Academy should resign them. When the same question was raised in 1850, the noble Member for the City of London (Lord John Russell) stated, on behalf of the Government, that they— Intended to act in conformity with the recommendation of the report to which the hon. Member (Mr. Hume) had alluded. The Royal Academicians would be obliged to find suitable accommodation for themselves out of the National Gallery, and the Vernon pictures would ultimately be placed in that building. If the National Gallery were rendered exclusively available for the national collection of pictures, it would be unnecessary to incur any expenditure for the erection of a new building, at all events for some time to come.


said, he rose to express his concurrence in the views of the noble Lord, and he wished to direct the attention of the house to the constitution of the Royal Academy, which was in reality a private society, enjoying the privileges of a public body. The Academy occupied—he might say to the injury of the public—a portion of a public building which was intended for another purpose; and in consequence of the privileges which it possessed, it was enabled to exercise a pressure upon the profession at large, which he believed, was extremely injurious to art. The Academy was also an unincorporated society, and was therefore totally irresponsible to any power in the State. It levied large contributions upon the public at the doors of its annual exhibition; and it had realized considerable funds, which he believed were amply sufficient for the erection of an edifice adequate to the purposes of the institution. The Royal Academy had, however, refused to allow any investigation of its accounts or any inquiries as to its duties, and it was for all practical purposes a totally irresponsible body. The National Gallery was originally intended for the exhibition of ancient pictures, and lone of the great faults always found with the Royal Academy was, that it had not supplied adequate means for studying antique sculp- ture as well as antique painting. One of the causes of the difference which occurred between Mr. Barry, the well-known painter, and the Academy, and which ultimately ended in his expulsion, was his attempt to enforce upon the Academy the necessity of forming a collection of ancient masters in painting and sculpture for the use of students, the want of such models rendering the system of instruction very inadequate and unsatisfactory. These deficiencies had, however, in some degree been remedied; but although the drawing schools—for they were really nothing else—had been considerably improved of late years; although architecture was recognized, and lectures were delivered upon anatomy and upon various branches of science connected with the fine arts, he believed there was still great room for improvement; and if the Royal Academy were allowed to occupy a public building, he maintained that it was the duty of that House to adopt a measure which would render that body responsible to Parliament and to the public. He thought this private society trafficking for profit should no longer be allowed to enjoy an irresponsible monopoly beneficial only to its members, and the effects of which were, he believed, actually injurious to artists and to the fine arts. In his opinion, the principle of free competition ought to be adopted, and, far from thinking that State institutions intended to diffuse a taste for art were successful, he believed they rather tended to check and to cripple private efforts which were directed to that object. He must urge upon the Chancellor of the Exchequer the necessity that some step should be taken to relieve the pressure which now existed within the walls of the National Gallery, and the simple remedy was to remove the Royal Academy as speedily as possible from Trafalgar Square.


said, he wished to call attention to the want of courtesy displayed by the authorities of the Royal Academy towards that House in taking no notice of a Motion which he had made some time ago for a return of the number of visitors to the exhibition. Considering that the Academy occupied a building granted to them by the liberality of the nation, he thought they might have shown a little more courtesy.


said, that no doubt the state of our national collections of art at present was extremely unsatisfactory. Adequate pre- mises must be supplied in order not merely to afford space for purchases, but to allow our collections to be enriched, as they might be, by donations from private individuals, which were now often withheld owing to the discouraging manner in which the country received such gifts. That being the state of affairs, and it being desirable that some conclusion should be come to upon this subject, he had on a previous occasion expressed his opinion that it was unnecessary to have any further public inquiry, and that there existed sufficient experience, a sufficient collection of facts and of well digested opinions, to guide any persons who really did not wish to shrink from responsibility. On the part of the Government, he had stated that they had made up their minds, after having considered the matter, to take that responsibility upon themselves; and that so far as the National Gallery was concerned—and he would say even with reference to other institutions—they should offer to the consideration and approval of the House at the proper time arrangements which would remove those great deficiencies now so generally acknowledged. He trusted, however, the House would feel that the work not being one of easy accomplishment and requiring a great deal of consideration and preparation, it would be somewhat unfair to require him now to enter into any further communication of their plans and intentions. It was enough that they accepted the responsibility of making arrangements, in order that our national collections should be placed in a position more worthy of the country and more conducive to the advancement of art.


said, he was sorry that no more definite statement had been made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Time pressed. The country was spending money in buying most expensive pictures, yet many of these had to be placed in the cellars and basement of the National Gallery, where they could not be seen. Now, this being the case, it rested with the Government to show why the Royal Academy should occupy one-half of the building for a day longer, when the whole gallery was required for its original purpose. He regretted, then, the Chancellor of the Exchequer had not stated that he would give the Academy warning. They had been allowed to occupy a portion of the building, because the space at that time was not wanted. It was known that they had accumulated a sum of money during the last 100 years; and, admitting all the advantages they had conferred upon art in this country, he thought Parliament might give them some additional sum so as to enable them to locate themselves in a separate building. But one or two years must elapse before such a building could be erected, and it was most important, therefore, that as soon as possible, notice should be given to them that they would be expected to vacate the building. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman might still be induced, perhaps in the course of the autumn, to give the requisite notice. It was evident that the Academy must leave Trafalgar Square at some future time, and perhaps space might be allotted to them at Kensington by means of a little addition to the zinc buildings there, until they were prepared to erect a gallery for themselves. He believed that great advantage would arise from removing the Academy from its present location, since this would be the first step towards its separation from the State. He agreed with his hon. Friend (Mr. Coningham) that the more completely art was separated from the State, the more original would be its conceptions and the greater its progress.


denied that the Royal Academy could be said to be at all connected with the State. The Government had always declared that they retained the power of calling on the Academy to vacate the building in Trafalgar Square whenever they thought it necessary, and he certainly believed the time had now come when the whole building should be appropriated to the wants of the national collection. The Academy was a private body, protected certainly by Royal patronage, but it was in no degree a national institution. In his opinion the country was not called upon to provide a new building for it. The subject was one of great importance, and while the noble Lord (Lord Elcho) deserved the thanks of the House for bringing it forward, he certainly thought the Government were called upon to act at once in the matter.


said, it was unreasonable that an institution the exhibition of which was only open some three months in the year should occupy one-half of the National Gallery, which might be open to the public nearly all the year round. Nor did he think that it would be difficult for the Royal Academy to find a suitable place for themselves.


said, he then rose to move the reduction of the Vote by £300, which was the amount of the salary of the travelling agent. Last year he had brought the subject under the consideration of the Committee of Supply, at which time he coupled this Motion with one for the reduction of the secretary's salary. This he did because the Committee of 1853, of which he was a member, did not recommend the appointment of a secretary at all, and because it appeared to him that the salary of £800 a year was excessive in proportion to the duties which the secretary had to perform. On the present occasion, however, he did not intend to press that Motion, for after submitting it to the House he had received a letter from the secretary, requesting that before he spoke again on the duties of the office he would inform himself what those duties were, and declaring that, so far from having nothing to do, his duties were so onerous that they occupied his time both day and night. This year, therefore, he should not allude to that matter, because he was an advocate for paying every man liberally in proportion to his services, but he would confine his Motion to the salary of the travelling agent. He objected to the appointment, because this again was one which had not been recommended by the Committee of 1853, and because he believed that the travelling agent was not only an unnecessary officer, but that the appointment was positively mischievous in its result. It was self-evident that if you had a man of that kind going about Italy and elsewhere he would raise the price of pictures, and it was not merely a question of £300 a year of salary, but involved the enhanced price which the nation thus gave for its purchases. This agent was appointed under a Treasury Minute drawn up in 1855, when the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Wilson) was in office, and it was to this effect:— In order to enable the Trustees and Director the more easily to acquire fine pictures that may be offered for sale on the Continent, my Lords propose to appoint a travelling agent with a salary of £300 a year, whose duties will be to visit the private collections of distinguished families abroad, ascertaining and describing their contents, and obtaining the earliest information of any intended sale. The agent will be paid his travelling and personal expenses on a scale hereafter to be fixed. The travelling expenses were afterwards fixed at £650 on these grounds:— As regards the travelling agent, it is probable that he will be absent from this country during the greater part of the year; and my Lords have fixed his salary at a moderate rate in consideration of the additional allowance to which he will be entitled while absent on his professional duties on the Continent. The principle seemed to be to give a low salary in consideration of his being constantly travelling, and the inference therefore was that his travelling expenses were unnecessarily high. The duties to be performed by the travelling agent were also set forth in the Minute, and it appeared that he was called upon to keep a diary, which was to be produced when called for, in order that his employers might be satisfied that he had been active and industrious. Now, he (Lord Elcho) must confess that he should very much like to see that diary. That the gentleman in question had been sufficiently active and industrious in travelling about Italy and in letting it be known everywhere that he was the agent of the National Gallery he entertained no doubt. It appeared, indeed, that when he had first been appointed to his present situation he had announced upon his cards that he was the expert de a Galerie Nationale de Londres, and the consequence was that pictures had risen to price wherever he went, and that the Austrian Government had on that account issued instructions to the mayors of towns, heads of convents, &c., forbidding them to give him admission. He had since, however, ceased to describe himself as the agent of the National Gallery, and was now contented with placing the simple words "M. Otto Mundler" upon his card. In order to show how the affairs of the National Gallery were mismanaged, by having larger prices given for pictures than they were worth, he had upon a former occasion cited the instance of a Paul Veronese, for which nearly £2,000 had been paid, but which in the place where it was bought—and the Italians knew very well how to put a value on their pictures—was valued at something like £370. Then for another Paul Veronese the enormous sum of £14,000 had been given, which he had ventured last year to pronounce an excessive price, the picture not being likely to fetch more than £2,000 if it were set up to auction in this country. Indeed since the picture had been hung up one of the first authorities in London had stated it to be his opinion that if it were put up to sale in the ordinary course of business, and without any previous character accompanying it, it would not fetch at the hammer more than £2,500, and that, with all the advantages which a character could bestow on it, not more than £4,000 would be got for it. There were many other instances where large sums of the public money had been wasted under the existing arrangement with this travelling agent. There was one in particular, a Vandacci, for which in the month of December £1,125 was given, which in the month of September, when be first saw it, he might have purchased, had he pleased, for £470. The managers of the National Gallery had a power of sale; they could dispose of any portion of a collection which they did not think fit to keep. Now, they had paid £2,000 for the Lombardi Baldi collection, one picture in which they valued at £1,000, though he did not think his hon. Friend the Member for Brighton (Mr. Coningham) would be disposed to set such a price on it. They proceeded to try and dispose of the others. Any pictures that they wished to get rid of, and failed to dispose of here, they sent over to Dublin; and he was informed that one of the pictures purchased in that £2,000 collection, not having been disposed of in London, was transported across the water, and was now to be seen in the National Gallery of Dublin or in some other of the public buildings of that city. Many of the pictures in this Lombardi Baldi collection were considerably damaged, and when the trustees gave such a complete historical description of the pictures, with the dates when they were first painted, it was a pity, he thought, that they did not also give the dates of the last time they were painted—that was, the date of their restoration. The restoration of those pictures was, generally speaking, the work of professors in Italy, who operated upon them before they came over to this country; but in his opinion it would be much better if they were brought over here, where they could be restored quite as well as in Italy, and exhibited in the first instance in their original state, in order that the nation might see what we had got for our money. The strongest instance which, perhaps, he could give the Committee of the injurious results in the way of raising the prices of pictures throughout the Continent in consequence of the employment of a travelling agent was furnished in the case of a picture which had been purchased in Florence. A letter stating the circumstances of the case had been put into his hands some time ago by Mr. Barker, of Piccadilly, who was well known for his taste in such matters, and who had received the letter from his agent, to whom he had given a commission for the purchase of the picture in question. The conclusion of the letter was as follows:— I open again this letter to tell you that in the meantime I was in the counting-house of the Marquess Ginori. I saw the card of M. Otto Mundler, who has offered 10,000 scudi for the Marquess's picture, which was estimated at 300 scudi only. I tell you, sir, this for your private information. If this offer had not been made, you most likely could have bought the picture for the 200 napoleons you offered; but at present, if you wish to have it, you must do a higher offer than the 10,000 scudi offered by M. Otto Mundler; he began by the offer of 7,000 to arrive at 10,000. Now, it appeared under these circumstances that a great waste of money was the result of the employment of a travelling agent. Why, he should therefore ask, was not the same plan adopted in the case of the National Gallery which was pursued by the authorities of the British Museum. They had no accredited travelling agent travelling about the Continent, enhancing the value of what they desired to buy, but they had agents in all parts of the world, who went about silently selecting articles which they thought would be suitable for the institution, and obtaining them, if the trustees sanctioned the purchase, at a reasonable price. The same system was followed with equal success by the institution known as the "Brompton Boilers." The Director, indeed, ought to be his own travelling agent—and he did travel every summer and his travelling expenses were charged, although this travelling agent was maintained at a salary of £300 a year. If the Director could not give his whole time to his duties in connection with the Gallery, it was the fault of those who appointed him, But the fact was, he had too many other things to do. He was the President of the Royal Academy, and an artist besides, and could not, therefore, give his whole time to the duties of the office of Director. He ought, however, to recollect that the nation had the first claim, and that if he would take the trouble to travel himself and establish local agencies in the various continental towns, we might obtain all the pictures required for the National Gallery at a reasonable price. Having made those observations he should move that the Vote be reduced by a sum of £300, being the salary of the travelling agent, while he proposed to leave untouched the travelling expenses, notwithstanding that he deemed them somewhat excessive in amount. He was aware that in making the Motion which he had just sub- mitted to the Committee he was likely to encounter the opposition of the hon. Gentleman the late Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Wilson), who invariably stood up for the abuses connected with the management of the National Gallery; who had upon a former occasion defended the scrubbing of a certain lady—he meant "the Woman taken in Adultery," as well as the cleaning of other pictures, and who was no doubt still prepared to contend that, for the advantage of the public service, it was necessary that the office of travelling agent should be maintained. He would bring forward this Motion every year until he succeeded in carrying it. If he unfortunately failed on this occasion he might be disposed hereafter to vary the form of his proposition, and, instead of asking the House to disallow the salary of £300 for the travelling agent, he should be tempted to recommend them to give that gentleman £1,000 a year on condition that he stayed in this country. That he was convinced, would be one of the best bargains ever made by Parliament.

Amendment proposed, to leave out "four hundred," and insert "one hundred," instead thereof.


hoped that the House would pause before they thus suddenly determined the career of Mr. Mundler. Without pretending to vindicate the proceedings of that Gentleman, it was yet possible that a good deal might be said on his behalf. The whole question of the National Gallery was under consideration at the present moment, and no doubt a very great revolution would take place in the general management of that institution. Therefore, in a case like this, which concerned a person engaged at no very great salary, he should be sorry if the House, with the prospect of a general revision before them, should commence by adopting what might be a very harsh step towards an individual. He would undertake, on the part of the Government, that the whole establishment of the National Gallery should undergo an investigation, which there was some reason to believe it well deserved. He was not using a mere phrase when he said he deprecated a division, though the result might not be very injurious to Her Majesty's Government. But he wished to avoid that tendency to fix upon an individual, which was too often exhibited, where they discovered symptoms of unsatisfactory management in a public institution. Under such circumstances acts of severity were sometimes hastily accomplished from feelings which were otherwise meritorious. The Government would inquire into the duties of the various officers of this establishment; and if ever this estimate was brought forward again under their responsibility it would be framed in a manner which he trusted would be satisfactory to the House.


said, he hoped the noble Lord would not insist upon a division. The understanding upon which this travelling agent was first employed was that he was to go abroad and ascertain what pictures contained in different private galleries it would be desirable to secure for our national collection. But he appeared to have gone beyond the limits of that understanding, and to have made offers for the purchase of certain pictures. This formed no part of his original duties, and was, moreover, a most injurious practice. At the same time, it would be exceedingly hard on an individual now to strike off this item; and if they voted for it on that occasion they would not be precluded from placing the functions of the travelling agent on a better footing for the future.


said, they were all indebted to the noble Lord for the amusing speech which he annually made on this subject; but he wished to point out before the House came to a division that the noble Lord had been entirely misinformed in regard to Mr. Mundler. It was not to be expected that the person from whom the noble Lord had quoted, being a rival agent to Mr. Mundler, should have any very friendly feeling towards that gentleman. Mr. Mundler had no power whatever to buy pictures. He could not even offer a price for a picture. It was his duty to ascertain where suitable pictures were to be found, and then make his report to the Trustees of the National Gallery, on whose responsibility all offers and all purchases were afterwards made. He had never seen Mr. Mundler in his life; but he believed that that gentleman was an officer whose labours had been of great advantage to the institution with which he was connected.

Question put "That 'four hundred' stand part of the Resolution."

The House divided:—Ayes 110; Noes 128—Majority 18.

"One hundred" inserted.

Resolution, as amended, agreed to.

Subsequent Resolutions, agreed to.