HC Deb 22 February 1922 vol 150 cc1896-8

asked the Lord Privy Seal whether he is aware that the Trustees of the National Gallery of British Art are about to hold a loan exhibition of the works of John Sell Cotman and some related painters of the Norwich School at Millbank; whether he is aware that some of the finest of Cotman's pictures, the property of the nation, are in the British Museum, but that, owing to the present law, the British Museum is prevented from lending its Cotmans to the Trustees of the National Gallery for exhibition; whether, seeing that exhibitions are from time to time organised for the education and enjoyment of the nation itself, he will contrive means, either by special legislation or otherwise, to enable the British Museum to lend its treasures for short periods to exhibitions held in London under the control of the National Gallery; and, if not, will he request the Law Officers of the Crown to assist him to discover a method by which the British Museum may be empowered to exhibit its pictures and drawings on occasions such as those now outlined, in order that the British Museum may not be merely a storage place for such works of art as cannot be exhibited continuously on the walls of that institution?


I am informed by the trustees of the British Museum, that they are not in favour of reversing the policy, carefully considered and established by law, which retains in the Museum all the collections belonging to it. It is to the advantage of students to be able to study prints and drawings collectively, instead of having them scattered over the kingdom, and the risks attendant on transport and exhibition are avoided. The Museum is not merely a storage place, but a place of study, and the present policy is believed to be the best in the interests of art and of art students. So far as the Cotman drawings are concerned, an exhibition of them is being held at the British Museum concurrently with that at the National Gallery of British Art. It is part of the settled policy of the trustees to vary the exhibitions of prints and drawings at frequent intervals, and to take advantage of special occasions to call attention to the work of special artists or schools.


Is it not a fact that the object of the trustees of the National Gallery in holding this special exhibition is for the purpose of allowing the public to compare the various phases of the work, and, if so, what good purpose is served by having two exhibitions some miles apart, one at Millbank and the other at the British Museum?


That is only a repetition of the question which I have already answered.