HC Deb 04 July 1878 vol 241 cc793-6

MR. HERMON rose to call attention to the inconvenience experienced by the public owing to the National Gallery being entirely closed to the public for several weeks each autumn, and to its being closed at too early an hour during some months of the year; to inquire whether it is essential that two days in each week should be set apart for students alone? and to move— That, in the opinion of this House, further facilities might be afforded to the public to view the magnificent collection. The National Gallery was, he said, according to present arrangements, inaccessible during the entire month of October. But that was a time when many thousands of strangers visited London, and they were naturally much disappointed at finding one of the prime attractions of the Metropolis closed against them. He saw no reason why the National Gallery should not always remain open until dusk, or why two days in each week should be wholly set apart for students. It was, of course, necessary, that on students' days steps should be taken to prevent too large an assembling of the general public; and this could be done, without entirely excluding those who might wish to visit the Gallery, by making a small charge for admission on particular days. He did not think the public were sufficiently aware that we had a National Gallery. People saw soldiers about, and thought it was a barracks. If better means were taken to attract visitors, the attendance would speedily increase. Then there was the question of catalogues. About £500 a-year was paid into the National Exchequer for catalogues sold. The daily average of visitors to the National Gallery was only about 7,000, and not more than that number of catalogues were sold in a year. Instead of being sold at 1s. or 1s. 6d., catalogues might easily be supplied for 1d. a-piece. When The Pilgrim's Progress could be published for 1d., and the whole of Shakespeare for 2½d., surely catalogues could be afforded as cheaply? As to the closing of the Gallery in October, he found, on looking at the attendance at South Kensington, that October was by no means a blank month, the attendance there being larger for that than it was for some of the other months of the year. Every facility ought to be offered to the public for visiting the magnificent collection of pictures we had at the National Gallery, especially when it was remembered that the public bought the pictures and paid for them. There were pictures there which were unsurpassed in any Gallery in the world, and, for his own part, he would rather spend a day there than in any other Picture Gallery in Great Britain. He regretted that he was unable to take the opinion of the House upon the question which he had brought forward; but he hoped the Government would give attention to it.


hoped the subject would be regarded by Her Majesty's Government in the same spirit in which it had been brought forward by the hon. Member for Preston. He entirely concurred with the three points in the hon. Gentleman's Notice—namely, that the National Gallery should be open for a longer time in the evening, that foreigners and others visiting London in the autumn should not be disappointed at finding the Gallery altogether closed, and that there was something unnecessary in the rule which excluded the general public from the Gallery on two days in each week. As to the two days on which the students had the run of the Gallery, he might remark that in foreign countries pictures could be seen in numbers taken from their places, and distributed in the Galleries for the convenience of the students of art who desired to copy them; but the public enjoyed the sight of those pictures at the very time when they were under the eyes of the copyists. He was at a loss to imagine why such a practice could not be introduced among a people so easily regulated as the English. As to the hours of closing, especially in the summer months, he would urge that, as the House refused to admit the working classes to the view of pictures on Sunday, it ought to provide for their accommodation on week days. Further, he would observe that one part of the National Gallery might be cleaned while another portion was open to the public. For all these, reasons he thought the suggestions of the hon. Member for Preston were very reasonable, and he felt sure that if adopted by the Government, they would be welcomed and greatly valued by the public at large. He would suggest that similar provisions should be extended to the British Museum. On going there people were often met by the announcement that the Museum was not open on that particular day, except to students. In fact, he had been told so to-day; but he contrived with some friends to procure admission. Not a single student was to be seen, nor anybody hardly except the officials, one of whom was engaged in the harmless amusement of reading a comic weekly paper. Was it right that the British Museum should be closed for three out of seven days in part on the plea that the students must enjoy the place in seclusion; when, in fact, not a single soul was to be found there except the officials in charge of the building? Surely this was reducing the matter to an absurdity. In the days of the right hon. Member for the University of London (Mr. Lowe) and the late right hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Ayrton) they could expect no boon in the interests of art or science, and the Muses fled from the land. But under a Conservative Government—a Government which should be a Government of culture—they did hope and expect something more. He therefore trusted the Government would see their way to making these collections, whether they were scientific, or artistic, or historical, more accessible to the public at large.


entirely agreed in the spirit in which this question had been brought forward, and he was as strongly of opinion as the hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Hermon), that the greatest possible facilities should be given for the admission of the public to the National Gallery, and also to the British Museum. He had no particular proposal to make on the subject, but he promised that it should receive the attention and consideration of the Government. With regard to the two days set apart for students, he might mention that there were certain difficulties in opening the National Gallery to the public every day, in consequence of the great numbers of people who visited that institution; still, he did not say that the difficulties were insuperable, and certainly the question was well worth discussing. Another point was raised about the closing of these places too early in the afternoon. Of course, it was requisite, first of all, that the valuable treasures preserved there should be absolutely safe from fire. At the same time, he was free to state that it was well worth consideration whether, in summer time, when there was no occasion for either fires or lights, these places might not be kept open to a later hour, especially as large classes of persons who would like to see the collections were busily engaged during the day. On this part of the subject he could speak more strongly than on the other. The greatest care should be taken to give facilities to those who could see the collections both at the National Gallery and the British Museum in the day-time, after working hours, during the summer months. As to the closing of the National Gallery during several weeks in the autumn, although, of course, the places must be cleaned, and the officials must have a holiday, he thought that some arrangement might, perhaps, be made, so that the whole of the collections need not be closed at the same time. These were matters which, of course, must be determined in consultation with the Trustees, and he could not do more than say that his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer would take care that they were considered in consultation with them.