HC Deb 08 February 1859 vol 152 cc181-4

said, he wished to ask the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, if a gallery for pictures is building, and in what locality? If so, what will be the expense of such building, and out of what moneys voted by Parliament will such expense be defrayed?


The question of the hon. Baronet refers to a matter of greater importance than might be at first supposed. It really refers to the question of a National Gallery. The House will recollect that last Session, wearied by the continued unsettlement of the question, and having no confidence that any further inquiry by Select Committees or Royal Commissions would produce a very satisfactory result, there seemed to be a general feeling that the Government should attempt to cut the Gordian knot and bring the question of the National Gallery to a final settlement. I undertook on the part of the Government, in deference to the feeling of the House, to obtain that result if possible, and I have the pleasure of informing the House that I have succeeded in accomplishing that which appeared to be the general wish of the country. The whole of the building in Trafalgar Square will speedily be entirely devoted to the National Gallery. I was so anxious on the part of the Government to bring this long-vexed question to a satisfactory settlement, that I was prepared to offer to the Royal Academy terms which were conceived in a liberal spirit. We were prepared to recommend Her Majesty to grant them a site, and I may say we are prepared even now to recommend this House to vote a sum of money to raise a building. But the Royal Academy, animated by a spirit which the House will appreciate, and which is worthy of that distinguished body, considered that if the expenditure for that purpose were defrayed out of the public funds, their independence would be compromised; and being in possession of sufficient property themselves, they announced their determination to raise the building for themselves, and declined any public contribution. Taking into consideration, however, various questions, into the merits of which we need not enter, the position they occupied and the claim they might be said to possess from having had a residence furnished, if not granted, by the Crown originally, and enjoyed so long, the Royal Academy came to the con- clusion that in accepting the offer of a site their independence would be not at all compromised. I hope and trust that the House will agree that the view which they took was the just, proper, and honest one. This being the state of the case, and it being settled that the building in Trafalgar Square shall be devoted to its original purpose, and its original purpose alone—namely, the reception of the pictures for the National Gallery—an announcement was made about that time by the proper authorities, on the part of his Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, that he expected his residence, Marlborough House, would be ready for his reception with all convenient despatch. His Royal Highness required that it should be ready for him next November, and we ascertained that it would take not less than eight months to put that residence in a proper state for the reception of his Royal Highness. The House is aware that for many years, through the gracious kindness of Her Majesty, Marlborough House has been at the service of the public. It became necessary, under these circumstances, to perform our part of the agreement with the Trustees of the National Gallery—that the Vernon and Turner collections should be placed in a proper receptacle until they can be received in the building in Trafalgar Square, and not only placed in a proper receptacle, but so completely under the control of the trustees and authorities that, wherever they might for the moment be deposited, no question could be raised hereafter as to whom they belonged, to what collection they pertained, and what authorities had the control and custody of them. Our first idea was to prepare the building known as the Carlton Ride for their reception; but when it was examined into it was found that the expense would be very considerable, that it would take not less than £3,000 to place the building in a condition to receive the pictures, and that, after all, it would not be fireproof. It was almost impossible to engage a building suitable for the purpose, and under those circumstances it was suggested that we might erect a gallery on that part of the land at Kensington Gore, which I may say is rented of the Royal Commissioners, under the arrangement of last year, for the convenience of the Government; that such a gallery would receive the Turner and Vernon collections until the building of Trafalgar Square is ready to receive them, and that they would be connected with the collection granted to the country by Mr. Sheepshanks. It was, of course, impossible, as Parliament was not sitting and could not be consulted, to settle the question definitely, but as is usual on such occasions, the Treasury had thought fit to take the responsibility of ordering the necessary alterations. As far as expense is concerned, the first estimate which was made for this building at Kensington was not as great as the expense which would have been incurred in the temporarily fitting up of Carlton Ride, although it was thought expedient afterwards that the expense should be increased. It was thought expedient for this reason—it is necessary that the curators of the National Gallery, the agents of the Trustees, shall have complete control of the collection, that they may not pass under any other authority; and therefore it is necessary that apartments shall be prepared for them, and also that accommodation shall be given for the overflow of pictures now accruing to the National Gallery. Although, in consequence of this, there has been some considerable addition made to the original estimate, I believe the whole sum to be expended on this temporary gallery will not amount to the annual rent of the premises which we once contemplated engaging for this purpose. I trust the hon. Baronet will feel that every care has been taken that the expenditure shall not exceed a reasonable amount. The result will be that, I hope, at the end of two years the Royal Academy will be established in their new building on the new site; that the building in Trafalgar Square will be completely devoted to the national collections of pictures, including the Turner and Vernon collections, as well as others which may hereafter be left to the country; and that there will then be left to the country, for the expenditure which they are now incurring, a building at Kensington which will be of the greatest use to the Government on many occasions and for many purposes, when, as all who have had the management of affairs of this kind know, a want of accommodation springs up in an accidental and casual manner, the non-supply of which is of great injury to the public service. I trust that the explanation which I have now given—which I should otherwise have given upon another occasion, but which I thought due to the House after the inquiry of the hon. Baronet—will prove satisfactory.


inquired, whether the right hon. Gentleman could inform the House what site would be granted to the Royal Academy for their new building?


Part of the ground round Burlington House. The Royal Academy will be connected with other public buildings. The interior will be left to the disposition of the Academy; the exterior will be subordinate to the design of the Government, if the Government insist upon that condition.

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