HC Deb 27 July 1859 vol 155 cc500-8

Mr. MASSEY in the Chair.

(In the Committee.)

Motion made, and Question proposed,— That a sum, not exceeding £15,985, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the Expenses of the National Gallery, including the purchase of Pictures, to the 31st day of March, 1860.


said, he wished to remind the Committee that a valuable site had been recently granted to the Royal Academy, thereby riveting its despotic authority over the artists of this country, while, with the superior advantages thus conferred upon it, it would probably ruin all the other competing societies of London. This, too, was done without the necessity of applying to the House of Commons for a Vote. The expenditure on the National Gallery was steadily increasing, and it had been administered in a most unsatisfactory manner. Originally, as the Committee knew, the building was intended for the reception of ancient pictures; but the Royal Academy had gradually encroached upon the building till it was allowed to occupy one-half of it, and that body, whose President was ex officio a trustee of the National Gallery, had always directed its hostility against the ancient masters, the National Gallery being described as a hortus siccus, and the Academy as a garden. He would also remind the Committee that since the establishment of the Royal Academy there had been a steady and constant decline in the fine arts of this country. With respect to the National Gallery, he could only say that while Sir Charles Eastlake occupied the position of keeper in that institution at a salary of £200 a year, the purchases of pictures which he had made had been so disastrous that he had been driven from the post which he occupied by the censure which had been passed upon his administration. He had been succeeded in office by Mr. Uwins, but as President of the Royal Academy he had appeared at the Board of the National Gallery as trustee, and in that capacity he should quote him against himself. Sir Charles Eastlake, in a letter which he had written to his co-trustees in 1853, said he did not intend to take any further part in the management of the National Gallery, yet he had subsequently been appointed one of its Directors at a salary of £1,000 a year. His purchase of the Holbein portrait implied, as he had before stated, not only a want of knowledge of the master but of his art, and he would refer to various newspapers and periodical publications, such as The Times, the Morning Post, the Sun, the Spectator, the Examiner, the Edinburgh Review, Tait's and Blackwood's Magazines, and others in corroboration of the views as to Sir Charles Eastlake's management which he entertained. The Motion, however, which he was about to submit to the Committee had reference to the expenses, which, although the item to defray the charge for a travelling agent had been struck out of the Estimates last year, still appeared in the Votes under that head. During the last year eight pictures had been purchased for the National Gallery, seven of which were at the present moment in that establishment. He was not, however, in a position to enter into an analysis of their merits or defects, and, indeed, to do so would be to discharge a somewhat tiresome and tedious office, but he should very much like to ascertain the opinion of Mr. Christie, or some other experienced appraiser of pictures, as to whether these eight paintings, which cost £3,000, were worth the £650 by which he should propose that the present Vote should be diminished. The sums spent upon the National Gallery had reached £89,000, £66,000 of which had been spent within the last four years, and the result was a collection of pictures, some of them spurious, and the greater number worthless. At the same time great omissions had been made and opportunities' overlooked, among which the refusal of Mr. Morris More's Raphael, the "Appollo and Marsyas," was a flagrant example. He further thought that the Royal Academy ought to be ejected from the building in Trafalgar Square. He (Mr. Coningham) persisted in this question, because he had more confidence in the attempt to set aside one proved abuse than in general and vague professions of reform, and in no branch of our expenditure was it more needed. It was with that view that he begged leave to submit to the Committee the following Amendment: —"That the Vote for the National Gallery be reduced by £650, charged as travelling expenses."


said, he could not but express his regret that the hon. Gentleman had not moved the reduction of the Vote by a larger amount. It embraced, for instance, a sum of £10,000 for the purchase of pictures over and above a surplus of £8,098 which had been already voted, and which remained unexpended, and he was therefore strongly of opinion that that sum of £10,000 ought not to be asked for by the Government.


said, he wished to offer one word in reply to the observations of the hon. Member for Brighton (Mr. Coningham), than whom no one was more competent by the exercise of his knowledge in pictorial art to advise the Committee to deal on the subject before them. The system upon which the National Gallery was now based had been established by a Treasury minute dated 1855, and was to last for five years. That period would expire in 1860, when it would become the undoubted duty of the Government to reconsider every part of the subject in the interests of the public and of art, and, if they deemed it expedient, to alter the existing system for the better. The hon. Member for Lambeth suggested that it would be desirable not to take the Vote of £10,000 for pictures in the present year, but the hon. Gentleman should bear in mind that a very special occasion—that of the sale of Lord Northwick's pictures—presented itself just now for the expenditure of the money, and that it was not, therefore, convenient that the Vote should be reduced by the amount which he proposed. Whether it would be well that a smaller sum should in future be voted to be placed at the absolute discretion of the trustees of the National Gallery, while any larger amount should depend for its application on the decision of Parliament, was a question which he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) deemed well worthy of consideration. He was of that opinion, because it was obvious that occasion for the expenditure of so large a sum as that of £10,000 could not arise in the course of each year, inasmuch as pictures did not come into the market in so regular a manner. So far as travelling expenses were concerned, he could not help thinking that they formed a very reasonable item in the charge for the National Gallery, because a vigilant eye was by means of such expenditure kept upon the sales of pictures in different parts of the Continent; while he was at the same time of opinion that those expenses ought to be kept within the limits of a judicious economy. Considering that the five years he had referred to were very nearly expired, and that the time was rapidly approaching when the whole subject must be taken into consideration, he hoped the hon. Member would not be disposed to press the Motion which he had made.


said, he thought that the opportunity which offered itself for the addition of valuable pictures to the National Gallery ought not to be thrown away. He did not at all join in the condemnation which some hon. Members had thought fit to pass upon the pictures already in that collection, and as for what the newspapers said upon the subject he paid no attention to it, because they would always write in favour of or against anything if they were paid for it.


said, he should have supposed that the duty of offering explanations upon a subject such as that under the consideration of the Committee would have devolved on the Vice President of the Council of Education, rather than upon the Chancellor of the Exchequer, whose time was so much occupied in attending to other departments of public business. But, be that as it might, he wished to receive from the Chancellor of the Exchequer some explanation as to the arrangements which were being made for the removal of the Royal Academy from Trafalgar Square. It was rumoured that the Government were about to confer a donation of £70,000 or £80,000 on that society in the shape of a site at Burlington House, and it was not, in his opinion, right that such a project should be carried out without some explanation with respect to it being afforded to the public, He perceived that temporary buildings were being erected at South Kensington for the purpose of affording accommodation for pictures during the period occupied in the removal of the Royal Academy from its present site; but inasmuch as those buildings were being constructed to last seventy or eighty years, while the process of removing to which he referred would not necessitate the supply of accommodation for the pictures in question for more than a year and a half or two years, he was of opinion that the public money was being thrown away in the prosecution of comparatively useless works. The point was therefore one on which he desired to receive some information from the Government, while he was also anxious to learn whether Her Majesty's present advisers had been implicated in any plan of the late Administration with reference to the alteration of the National Gallery, and whether they intended that any alteration which might be made in the present building in Trafalgar Square should he made the subject of public competition?


said, it was perhaps more desirable that the representatives of the late rather than those of the present Government should reply to the observations which had been made by the hon. Gentleman with regard to the removal of the Royal Academy. He might, therefore, be allowed to state that the hon. Member must have forgotten the extremely lucid statement which the then Chancellor of the Exchequer had made some months ago. That statement was a full narrative of the relations in which the Government stood to the Royal Academy, and a summary of all the transactions which had taken place in the matter; and it was so clear, explicit, and straightforward that it met with the general approbation both of the House and the country.


said, he felt disposed to take the sense of the Committee as to the expediency of reducing the Vote under discussion by the £10,000 to which reference had been made by the hon. Member for Lambeth, and he should therefore like to know whether it was competent for him to propose that reduction after the Amendment of the hon. Member for Brighton had been disposed of?


said, that it would be competent for the hon. Member to do so.


considered that the enjoyment felt at the contemplation of pictures of the highest character could be only felt by men of the most refined tastes, and who had opportunities of comparison which the million did not possess, and it seemed very doubtful whether such collections advanced art generally. It was, moreover, extremely undesirable, after the statement which had been made by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer a few days ago, that the national resources should be expended on any other than really necessary objects; and being of opinion that the cost of pictures was considerably increased in the market abroad by the presence of travelling agents, and that we gave a price for them which no other nation did, he should support the Amendment of the hon. Member for Brighton.


said, he could not conceive how any objection could be raised to so moderate an expenditure as that indicated by this Vote. Pictures were not exhibited solely for the amusement of the rich, but were of great value in improving the taste of the lower classes; and, speaking from an intimate acquaintance with those of foreign countries, in his opinion the National Gallery would bear comparison with some of the finest galleries in Europe. As to the expenditure for pictures, he would remind the House that the French Government had paid £20,000 for one picture. With regard to voting the £10,000 this year, we ought not to lose the opportunity of the sale of Lord Northwick's collection to add to the national collection. He thought it a pity to touch the £650 for travelling expenses at the present moment when the whole question was about to be considered. He thought that there should not be a regular travelling agent, but he was sure that there ought to be a person quietly to watch the foreign picture market, and the sum now proposed was moderate.


said, he intended to vote for the Motion of the hon. Member for Brighton. Considering the financial diffculties in which the country was placed, it appeared to him reckless extravagance to vote such large sums for purposes not of pressing importance. The first consideration ought to be to have the defences of the country placed in a satisfactory position.


said, that in reply to the observations of the hon. Member for Poole (Mr. Danby Seymour) he had to state that, so far as the buildings at South Kensington were concerned, Her Majesty's Government in making use of them had no intention whatever of interfering in any way with the resolution at which the House of Commons had arrived with reference to the National Gallery. Those buildings were erected merely for the purpose of temporary accommodation, while, with regard to the disposal of the site of Burlington House, and the devoting of the entire of the building in Trafalgar-square to the objects of the National Gallery, his answer must be that he had had as yet no time to investigate the arrangements in those respects which had been made by the late Government. His attention should, however, be directed to the subject, and he could assure the Committee that he should not seek in dealing with it to place himself under the shelter of that which had been done by his predecessors in office.


said, that with respect to the Gallery in Trafalgar Square the late Government had come to no decision whatever in regard to the future appropriation of the site to be vacated by the Royal Academy.


said, he could not understand what connection there was between the item for travelling expenses and the subject to which hon. Members had just been referring. With respect to these expenses, he could only say that he believed the agreement which had been entered into with Sir C. Eastlake when he had accepted his present office was to the effect that when he was engaged in travelling for the purposes of the National Gallery his expenses should be allowed, and that the result of the success of the Motion of the hon. Member for Brighton would be to throw on the salary of Sir C. East-lake an expenditure which it was never intended it should bear. As to the speech by which that Motion was supported it was sufficient to remark that the hon. Member having made strong assertions seemed to imagine that he had proved his case. He condemned as unfortunate the purchases which had been made for the National Gallery, but something more than mere assertion was required to demonstrate the justice of that condemnation. The hon. Member had, indeed, published a pamphlet on the subject, but, so far as he (Mr. Stirling) could see, that pamphlet, as well as the speeches of the hon. Gentleman, was made up almost entirely of assertions. It was the opinion of the hon. Gentleman, for instance, that the pictures of the Spanish school, which had been purchased for the National Gallery, were altogether unworthy of that institution; but upon that point he begged leave to differ from the hon. Gentleman, and to express his belief that the few selections of those pictures made for the National Gallery were highly creditable to the taste of those by whom they were bought. As to the Holbein portrait, which seemed to constitute the greater portion of the hon. Gentleman's stock-in-trade, it ap- peared to him that the chief mistake which Sir C. Eastlake had committed with respect to it was the having the candour to confess that he had been wrong in purchasing it as a genuine picture. If Sir C. Eastlake had acted with less fairness the hon. Gentleman would not have been in a position to condemn him, as he said, out of his own mouth. He might add that Sir C. Eastlake, when he had been appointed Keeper of the National Gallery, had expressed it to be his wish not to be made responsible for the purchase of any but Italian pictures, inasmuch as the Italian school of painting was the only one which he professed thoroughly to understand. He thought it right, in justice to Sir C. East-lake, to make those observations, and he might remark that if the management of the Gallery was objectionable the hon. Member would have a future opportunity of moving for a Committee on the whole subject. Whether objectionable or not, the system was the result of Parliamentary inquiries, and had a pile of blue-hooks for its foundation. He should conclude by expressing a hope that the Committee would not object to the Vote under discussion.


said, that Sir C. Eastlake undertook the directorship of the National Gallery on the distinct understanding that he was to be responsible for all the pictures purchased. All the best opinions were with him on the subject of the management of the Gallery.

Motion made, and Question put, "That the item of £650 for 'travelling expenses' be omitted from the proposed Vote."

The Committee divided: —Ayes 40; Noes 171: Majority 131.


said, he would then move that the Vote be reduced by the sum of £10,000. The proposal to vote that sum for the purchase of pictures was an unconstitutional application of the public money. He had always opposed it, and he opposed it more especially now, when they had been called upon by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to assist in reducing the Civil Estimates. It might be said that it was a trifle, but all large sums were made up of smaller ones, which in comparison might be called trifles. When for purposes of defence they were obliged to impose an extra income tax on men earning their £2 a week, they ought not to spend £10,000 in the purchase of pictures. As to promoting art, it ought not to be done by taxing the public. He did not see why they should undertake to teach people to draw any more than to teach people to become agriculturists out of money raised from the labouring classes. Within the last twelve years they had spent nearly £2,000,000 upon Votes connected with the arts and science departments. He could not approve of such extravagant outlay for promoting education in these matters, especially when persons with very narrow incomes were threatened with increased income tax.


said, he should vote for the reduction, not because he objected to expenditure for promoting art, but because he was dissatisfied with the system and the taste which had been shown in the purchases.


said, he attached no weight to the argument that the Treasury Minute of 1855, authorizing these grants of public money for five years, would expire next year, as the House was not bound by any Treasury Minute. He should therefore support the Motion of the hon. Member for North Warwickshire. He thought it would be better to place the whole responsibility for the purchase of pictures on the Government.


said, that as the Treasury Minute, although no authority of itself, had been communicated to the House, and Votes had been granted in conformity with it, a constructive obligation arose towards individuals affected by it. The only two grounds assigned for the reduction were, first, that such Votes were unconstitutional; and, secondly, that the management was bad. He frankly confessed that upon neither of those grounds could he support the Motion.


said, he should support the Amendment on the same grounds as his hon. Friend the Member for Hull (Mr. Clay).

Motion made, and Question put, "That the item of £10,000 for the purchase of Pictures" be omitted from the proposed Vote."

The Committee divided: — Ayes 64; Noes 136: Majority 72.

Original Question put, and agreed to.

The following Votes were then agreed to:

(2). £6,439, Magnetic Observations Abroad.

(3), £500, Royal Geographical Society.

(4.) £1,000, Public Objects.

House resumed.

Resolutions to be reported To-morrow.