HC Deb 14 July 1864 vol 176 cc1523-32

Supply considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

(1.) £8,876, to complete the sum for the National Gallery.


objected to the item of £2,000 for incidental expenses of the establishment—travelling, agencies, &c, which he thought was a large percentage on the £8,000 which had been expended in the purchase of pictures. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Board of Works would take this opportunity of giving some information as to the decisions of the Government with regard to the removal of the Royal Academy. If the Royal Academy were provided for elsewhere there would be ample room in Trafalgar Square for all the national pictures, because there was a lower suite of rooms which would be admirably suited for the exhibition of cabinet pictures. He hoped to get a distinct pledge from the right hon. Gentleman on this subject.


said, it was a mistake to suppose that the space now occupied by the Royal Academy would, if added to the existing accommodation, be sufficient to receive all the national pictures. It might provide for the Ancient Masters, but it would be insufficient for the exhibition of the British pictures, which were for the present at South Kensington. He was sure that the House would not wish to deal with this subject in a partial or incomplete manner: any proposal ought to be complete in itself, and worthy of the pictures and of the nation. If the House had accepted the proposal made by the Government to erect a National Gallery at the back of the Burlington site, they would have had at a moderate cost a building which would have been unrivalled for grandeur in internal arrangements. There was, no doubt, on the part of many hon. Members, a great objection to remove the national pictures from what was called the "finest site in Europe," and there was a disposition on the part of many hon. Mem bers to construct an adequate National Gallery there for the architectural improvement of that part of London. That plan would involve the expenditure of a large amount of money; but if the feeling of the House was to disregard cost and the best arrangement of the Gallery, and to insist upon having in that part of London a large Palace of Art, there would be no difficulty in attaining that object.


thought the speech of the right hon. Gentleman was unsatisfactory. No answer had been given to the question put, and the House was entitled to know how the Royal Academy were to be provided for. The building in Trafalgar Square had been appropriated to the national pictures, but it had never been applied entirely to that purpose. No sooner had the site for the National Gallery been fixed upon than the Royal Academy succeeded in getting removed there; so that one half the building intended for the national collection had been given up to other purposes. Now, the right hon. Gentleman would do nothing, and would not say anything, because the House would not agree to his grand scheme. But the right hon. Gentleman should have thought of the matter two years ago before he spent £17,000 upon a half of the building to make it fit for the reception of the national pictures. Now it appeared that that money had been entirely wasted.


would remind the right hon. Baronet that the reason why the Royal Academy was lodged in the present building was because the apartments which they formerly occupied in Somerset House had been required for the public service, and a portion of the National Gallery was not required then for the national pictures. But he denied that the sum expended upon improving the building had been thrown away. On the contrary, it had afforded the means of displaying a larger number of pictures. When the right hon. Baronet told the Government that they should two years ago have been prepared with plans for enlarging the National Gallery, and for providing elsewhere for the Royal Academy, he must surely have forgotten that a few weeks since the House came to a decision adverse to the arrangement proposed by the Government. What they had thought best was to provide for the National Gallery at the back of Burlington House, and to leave the Royal Academy at Trafalgar Square. The House decided against that arrangement. He retained his own opinion; but the House of Commons had a right to assert its own. It was too much to expect that in the short interval which had elapsed the Government should have been able to mature a plan for the accommodation elsewhere of the Royal Academy and for the enlargement of the present building, so as to receive all the national pictures. The Government would, of course, give their attention to the subject, and he hoped that next Session they would be enabled to propose some plan which would meet the approval of the House.


thought it was a most unfortunate circumstance that, let the House do what it would, it could not persuade the noble Lord nor the right hon. Gentleman that it was determined the Notional Gallery should remain at Trafalgar Square. Surely, it was the duty of the First Commissioner of Works to bow to the decision of the House. The right hon. Gentleman had a fancy scheme of his own, but he must give it up. A question had been asked to which no answer had been given. Was the right hon. Gentleman prepared to consider the best mode of getting rid of the Royal Academy, and of devoting the whole space at Trafalgar Square to the exhibition of the national pictures.


thought we were in the unfortunate position of having a choice of too many sites. The First Commissioner of Works said rightly that there was not sufficient room at Trafalgar Square for the exhibition of all the national pictures. He agreed that the expenditure of £17,000 which took place two years ago was thrown away, because it had destroyed a decent entrance to what was the most miserable building that could be devised. There were, no doubt, difficulties in deciding what course to take; but the Government had been distinctly told by the House that they must not remove the National Gallery from Trafalgar Square. They had a large space which they had purchased at Kensington. Nobody wanted to go to a National Gallery every day—he must be a miserable wretch who would go to a National Gallery every day; but when one did go to a National Gallery one liked to see something worthy of the name. There was space enough at Kensington to build everything that was required. It was impossible to say whether in a few years Kensington might not be the centre of London, so rapidly was London extending in that direction. There was not room at Trafalgar Square for the national collection, and we ought to wait till we could have something on a grand scale. There were deep feelings on this question. He did not know why, for he had none whatever. He did not care in which part of the metropolis the National Gallery might be, provided it was accessible to the people; but he did wish to see the pictures of the nation properly housed.


said, he did not understand how it was that room enough could not be found for all the pictures at Trafalgar Square. He contended that if the Royal Academy were removed from Trafalgar Square there would be ample space there for the national collection of pictures. He did not now want to go into the question whether glass was not useful for preserving pictures; but it was a fact that the glass covering prevented some of the pictures in the national collection from being seen. The dark pictures when so covered could not be seen, and among them was that admittedly spurious work for which £630 had been paid last year.


submitted that he was entitled to an answer to his plain question—namely, whether the Government, after the recent Vote, were taking any steps for the removal of the Royal Academy from Trafalgar Square? When that removal was effected there would be quite sufficient accommodation in the National Gallery for all the pictures we now had and all which we were likely to get for some time. It should be borne in mind that there was nearly as large a space below the present Exhibition rooms as there was in those rooms themselves. There was no occasion for a grand scheme. Nobody wanted it but the hon. and learned Member for Southwark (Mr. Locke). It seemed to him that the First Commissioner, ignoring the recent Vote of the House, insisted only on the objections to keeping the collection in Trafalgar Square.


said, the hon. Baronet the Member for Westminster (Sir John Shelley) distinctly asserted that the House had determined to do something; but the House had not determined to do anything. The House had rejected the plan of the Government, but they had not adopted any plan in its place. Hon. Gentlemen said the House had determined that the Royal Academy should be removed from Trafalgar Square; but he put it to them whether, before they compromised the site of Burlington House by removing to that place a body which would occupy a great portion of it, the Government ought not to know what was to be done with the building in Trafalgar Square? He wanted to know whether the House by their vote had given the Government any clear indication of what was to be done with the building at Trafalgar Square? What had happened immediately after the division? Why, he had been instantly shown that there was a hopeless difference of opinion in the ranks of the majority as to the course to be taken in consequence of the vote. The moment the numbers had been announced from the Chair, the noble Lord the Member for Haddingtonshire (Lord Elcho) rose and said the House had determined that a magnificent edifice should be erected. [Mr. CAVENDISH BENTINCK: No.] He begged the hon. Member's pardon. [Mr. CAVENDISH BENTINCK: The noble Lord said so.] Then why did the hon. Member say "No?" No sooner had the noble Lord stated that a splendid edifice was to be erected in Trafalgar Square than an hon. Member—he thought the Member for Hampshire—rose on the opposite side of the House, and amid very lively marks of assent contested the principle laid down by the noble Lord the Member for Haddingtonshire, observing that there was no intention of pulling down the National Gallery, as comparatively inexpensive modifications and an enlargement of the present building would give all that was required. With those two distinctly contradictory interpretations ["No, no!"] what were the Government to do? Why do hon. Gentlemen say "No, no?" Two distinctly contrary interpretations had been put upon the vote. It remained for the Government to reconcile those contradictions as well as other circumstances in the case; and therefore it was important that they should have time to consider the matter, or have some clear indication of the will of the House. He begged the House would not understand him as giving any opinion on the matter further than to say that, up to the presen ttime, there had been no clear indication given by the House as to their opinion of the course which the Government ought to pursue.


certainly must express his dissent from the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who appeared to him to have spoken under an erroneous impression. The noble Lord the Member for Haddingtonshire (Lord Elcho) had voted with the Government; and the right hon. Gentleman seemed to forget that on the occasion to which he had referred the noble Lord rose, in the interest of the minority, to throw doubt and discredit on the vote of the majority. The moment he had done so an hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Sclater-Booth) got up and said the noble Lord had not spoken the opinion of the House, and the statement of the hon. Gentleman was assented to by the majority, among whom there was no difference of opinion. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to forget, likewise, that the noble Lord (Lord John Manners) who had moved the rejection of the vote, stated distinctly the grounds on which the Royal Academy ought to be removed, and the National Gallery kept in its present position for the use of the nation. An opposition scheme had been put before the House by the Government, and on that the House voted. There had not been the smallest misapprehension or difference of opinion expressed by the majority during the whole of the debate, and he had no hesitation in pronouncing the observations of the noble Lord the Member for Haddingtonshire to have been most unwarrantable. The Chief Commissioner of Works had taken his cue from the noble Lord, and had reiterated the same sort of trash. Tie admitted that the Government ought not to be asked so soon how they intended to accommodate the Royal Academy; but he hoped there would be a clear understanding that the Royal Academy was to leave the National Gallery, and that a building would be provided for it either at Burlington House or elsewhere.


said, there need be no doubt what the decision of the House meant. It meant that the national pictures should remain in Trafalgar Square, and it was the duty of the Government to carry out this decision.


understood the Chief Commissioner of Works to say that he thought the National Gallery might be sufficient for the pictures of the Ancient Masters, but that the modern pictures should remain at South Kensington. Now, he would urge upon the Government the propriety of keeping the modern as well as the ancient pictures in Trafalgar Square, excepting, of course, those which had been left to the nation with the stipulation that they should be kept at South Kensington. It was sometimes said that pictures in the National Gallery suffered deterioration from atmospheric influences to which pictures were not exposed at South Kensington. But he had noticed with regret that there was more decay of colour in the paintings at South Kensington than in those kept elsewhere. He could not tell whether this arose from the glare of light or from the gas used at the many night fetes which were given there.


said, the hon. and learned Member (Mr. Ayrton) had taken a very narrow view of the ground of the vote given on a previous occasion, but undoubtedly many of those who divided with the majority had a larger and more suitable view of the requirements of the National Gallery. For example, the hon. Member for Poole (Mr. H. Seymour) had found fault with the Government for not providing a large, handsome, and, of course, expensive building in the rear of the National Gallery; and many other hon. Gentlemen had at different times stated that what they objected to was the false economy of the Government in not erecting a gallery worthy of the nation. The hon. and learned Member, therefore, had no right to assume that he represented the opinion of the majority upon that vote. The truth was there were many opinions held by the majority, and this rendered it difficult for the Government to say what they would do. If the House was content with the building as it stood and with the crowding of the pictures, that was a decision easily enough understood; but if they desired a building large enough to contain all our pictures, and one really worthy of our grand collection, it was impossible to be satisfied with the present building. If the pictures were brought from South Kensington, the rooms now occupied by the Royal Academy would not be sufficient to hold them. The portion of the building occupied by the National Gallery comprised 9,641 superficial feet of floor space and 860 lineal feet in a horizontal line; that occupied by the Royal Academy contained 7,391 superficial and 650 lineal feet, making a total of 1,510 lineal feet which the whole building would provide. Now the Keeper of the National Gallery said that the whole of the pictures would require 700 feet more than the 1,500 which the building contained. The hon. Member for Swansea (Mr. Dillwyn) had misunderstood him. What he had said was that if the pictures were to come to Trafalgar Square from South Kensington they would occupy all the available space which the Royal Academy would give up. The hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Augustus Smith) asked why these pictures were not put in the basement? The answer was, because they could not be seen or appreciated there. For a short time the Vernon Gallery was put there, and everybody complained of the absurdity and folly of doing so. The difficulty was that various parties would combine in this House to reject a proposal, but no one could be sure that they would combine to support another proposal. Endless opinions had been offered; five or six sites had been suggested, and his opinion was that everything proposed in this House on the subject would be rejected. He thought, therefore, that for the present the pictures had better remain where they were.


said, it appeared to him that this was nothing more than an adjourned debate upon a question which was settled four weeks ago; and with all his knowledge of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Cowper) and his Colleagues he really was surprised at the course which they had taken that night. It was vain to say that there were many different objects in-fended by those who formed the majority on the former occasion; for the simple fact was, that if there were any combination at all it was to retain the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Cowper) was unable to answer a plain question, but kept "harping on my daughter"—that was to say, he went back to his favourite scheme—and the Chancellor of the Exchequer endeavoured to explain away the decisions of the House. Now, although this House had last Friday supported the Government, though he denied that they had passed a vote of confidence, this was no reason why the Government, with their heads a little turned by their success, should now explain away the decision come to by the House upon the National Gallery. He thought the House before it separated ought to come to some understanding on this point, and that the Government should state distinctly whether they meant to carry out the decision. They ought not to allow either the Chancellor of the Exchequer or the First Commissioner of Works by a long rigmarole to explain away the decision of the House. The Committee, on the contrary, ought to insist on carrying out their decision by retaining the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square.


I think my hon. Friend is the last man in the House to interpret the vote of the other evening. If I am not mistaken my hon. Friend had no opinion on the subject whatever. His mind appeared to have been so shaken by the arguments employed on the two sides that he ran away from the division altogether, and I think that he is, therefore, not entitled to put any construction upon the nature of the votes recorded by other hon. Members. I can assure my hon. Friend that we accept the vote of the House the other evening as being against our proposal, which was to remove the National Gallery to Burlington House, and to allow the Royal Academy to remain in its present position. This discussion, however, arose in consequence of a question proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Truro, who has called upon us this evening to state what arrangement we proposed to make for the removal of the Royal Academy from Trafalgar Square.


I asked whether the Government had taken any steps for the removal of the Royal Academy from Trafalgar Square?


Of course we could take no steps until we could procure some plan showing where the Royal Academy could go, and how they were to house themselves. [An hon. Member: That is their business.] We did not at all presume to controvert the intentions of the House that the National Gallery should remain in Trafalgar Square; and when next Session we shall propose some plan which will effect that object, it will be our duty to see that the collection can be properly lodged in Trafalgar Square, and I have no doubt that the House will not begrudge the necessary expense. It is quite certain that increased accommodation will be required, and we shall endeavour to attain that result in as economical a manner possible consistent with the public advantage.


thought it perfectly right that art should be encouraged, but protested against the principle that the Government were in any way bound to procure accommodation for the Royal Academy.


wished to know whether facilities would be afforded to persons desirous of inspecting pictures protected by glass, and whether the glass might for that purpose be removed upon application.


believed that the Trustees already gave the necessary facilities in cases where application was made.

Vote agreed to.

(2.) £1,500, Gallery of Portraits.


wished to know whether it were ultimately the intention of the Government to bring all the collections together, and place the Portrait Gallery under the same roof as the other pictures when the building in Trafalgar Square should be enlarged? He thought that the purchase of pictures should be conducted upon the responsibility of one person, and that more attention should be paid to the authenticity of the specimens, even though their cost might be slightly enhanced.


said, he had admitted that the separation of the Portrait and National Galleries was only to be regarded as temporary, but no plan was at present before the Government on that point. He did not concur with the hon. Member that it was advisable to confine the responsibility of purchasing pictures to one person. It would be impossible to give any pledge that the whole of the pictures should be placed in one building until some definite plan should be settled.

Vote agreed to.

House resumed.

Resolutions to be reported To-morrow.

Committee to sit again To-morrow.