HL Deb 16 February 1857 vol 144 cc688-93

in moving for certain correspondence between the Government and Mr. Sheepshanks in reference to his gift of pictures to the nation, said he would remind their Lordships that it had been his duty in 1848 to call their attention to the magnificent gift of pictures which the late Mr. Vernon made to the country. Since that time we had received several other donations of that kind, and those had been very recently supplemented by the generous offer of the noble collection which was the subject of his present Motion. He did not think those liberal gifts from private parties had been received either by the public or by Parliament quite in the grateful spirit which might have been expected, or which such acts of munificence deserved. The generosity of individual parties had greatly outrun the liberality of Parliament. The question of a national collection of pictures had never received any attention until the year 1824, when it was, he believed, first raised by his late Friend, Lord Dover. It was next brought forward on the part of Lord Liverpool's Government by Lord Farnborough. He should add, that the most strenuous supporter of these attempts was the late Mr. Hume. Austere as were Mr. Hume's principles on questions of economy, no one was less disposed to parsimony when questions of improving the intellect, and he would add, the taste and the innocent pleasures of the people were concerned. Mr. Hume on the 2nd April, 1823, observed, "It was at last determined to form a National Gallery and by so doing to rescue the country from a disgrace which the want of such an establishment had long entailed upon it." Since then we had gone on languidly at intervals, sometimes allowing good pictures to escape us, and sometimes, though he believed very rarely, purchasing indifferent ones; he believed that the mistakes of that description were by no means numerous. Now, however, we had a very fine collection; but he belived the public were not quite in possession of the facts as to how it had been got together, for both in that and the other House of Parliament he had heard the collection discussed as if it were mainly or altogether the creation of the State, and principally purchased out of the national resources; whereas, in point of fact, we were indebted for it much more to the generosity and public spirit of private individuals than to any liberality which Parliament had shown in the matter. He had in his hand an account of the national collection from 1824 down to the present time. From 1824 to 1833 the number of pictures purchased by the State for the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square was 42, and the number presented to it by private individuals was 68; from 1834 to 1843 the number added by the State was 15, and by private individuals 63; from 1844 to 1853, 17 were bought by the State and 188 presented by private individuals; and from 1854 to 1856, 36 were given by the State and 114 by private individuals. In other words, from 1824 to 1856, 112 pictures were purchased for the National Gallery by the State and 433 were the gifts of private individuals. The special gifts of pictures to the nation included 16 by Sir George Beaumont, 6 by William the Fourth, 35 by the Rev. W. H. Carr, 15 by Lord Farnborough, 8 by his late valued Friend Lord Colborne, 3 by Mr. Samuel Rogers, and 156 by Mr. Vernon. The pictures included in the Vernon Gallery were peculiarly valuable, because the trustees of the National Gallery considered themselves precluded from purchasing modern pictures, and therefore no specimens of the artists of our own country had been added to the collection by the State. This example had been followed. Since Mr. Vernon's gift, the nation had received a most splendid bequest from the late Mr. Turner. Of the pictures left by that artist 100 were entirely finished, and 182, not less important and in some respects more instructive, were unfinished and in progress; but, perhaps, the most valuable of all were 18,749 exquisite drawings and sketches. From this mere recital of the numbers of these works of art, their value might be estimated. Within a very short time the nation had been offered another splendid gift, perhaps deriving additional value from the fact of its being made in the lifetime of the collector. Mr. Sheepshanks, who was known to many of their Lordships as a collector and a man of taste, and distinguished also, he might add as the brother of one of the most eminent men of Science in our time, had offered to give to his country his magnificent collection of 233 pictures and 103 drawings and sketches. So that from these three last named individuals the nation had received 19,823 works of art, far exceeding in number all which had been purchased by the Government with the large means at their disposal. He hoped there would be no hesitation in undertaking to comply with the conditions attached by the donor to his noble gift. He remembered that in the case of tire Dulwich collection, Mr. Vansittart, on the part of the Government of the day, refused to accept that gift from Sir Francis Bourgeois, on the ground that the Government were not prepared to vote the money for the construction of a suitable room. Those days were, he trusted, gone by, and he hoped he should hear from his noble Friend (Lord Stanley of Alderley) that Mr. Sheepshanks' splendid gift had been respectfully and gratefully accepted, subject to the conditions attached to it by the donor. He begged to move that there be laid before this House a Copy of any Correspondence between Her Majesty's Government and Mr. Sheepshanks respecting the Gift of his Collection of Pictures to the Nation.


said, he held in his hand Mr. Sheepshanks' deed of gift and the acknowledgment on the part of the Government of that noble gift. The donor, of whom it was impossible to speak in too high terms, was well known to most of their Lordships as having been engaged, during a life of no short duration, in collecting some of the choicest specimens of British art; and now, wishing himself to see them placed in a situation where they might prove more extensively useful, and not waiting until death had removed him from the scene, he had offered them to the nation. Mr. Sheepshanks had naturally attached some conditions to his donation. In the first place, it was his opinion that, for the purpose of establishing a National Gallery of British art, it was desirable that his collection should be placed in a situation where it would be generally accessible to the public, without being interfered with by the noise or injured by the dirt of the metropolis, and that it should also be in immediate connection with those schools of art, where he thought it was calculated to prove of great advantage. Mr. Sheepshanks also desired that the superintendence and management of this collection should be vested in a Minister of the Crown, who should be solely responsible, and not placed in the hands of any body of managers or trustees, who he thought might not be so directly amenable to public opinion for its proper administration as a Minister of the Crown. The person selected as the First Trustee, and who for the time being was to have the custody and management of the collection, was the head of the Department of Art Education in this country. Up to the present moment the task had fallen upon him (Lord Stanley of Alderley) as being the head of the office to which the Department of Science and Art belonged; but it would shortly be transferred into the much more worthy hands of his noble Friend the Lord President of the Council, in his capacity of President of the Board of National Education. Another condition annexed to the gift was that a suitable building, well-lighted, airy, and commodious, should be erected to receive it, situated in the ground at Kensington purchased by the Commission of 1851, and upon which had been erected the Schools of Art formerly located at Marlborough House. Mr. Sheepshanks wished that, in the first instance, his pictures should be more especially used for the promotion of art in these schools. Next, he wished, if the responsible Minister thought fit, that portions of the collection should be sent into the provinces for exhibition there as examples of art. Then the collection was to be thrown open to the public at convenient times, subject to the conditions stated. Mr. Sheepshanks also expressed an earnest desire (though this was not made a condition of the gift) that the gallery should be open on Sunday evenings, for the inspection of the working classes, who during the week had not the opportunity of visiting such places. These, then, were simply the conditions attached by Mr. Sheepshanks to his munificent present. If the Government should think proper to accept it on such conditions, he made it over to the nation with no reservations—nay, even with the express desire on his part that it might not form an exclusive gallery, separate from other pictures of which the State might become possessed, but that it should form the nucleus of a great collection of British art, and he did not wish that his name should be at all connected with it. In making this donation, Mr. Sheepshanks desires to offer his testimony to the advantage which had resulted from that Department of Art which originated in the Exhibition of 1851. In his opinion, this department had conferred great benefits upon this country, and would, if properly encouraged and promoted, be productive of still greater advantages. In this opinion he (Lord Stanley) entirely concurred and even in a purely material point of view, and looking only to the commercial advantages derived by this country, he already saw great advantage from the existence of such a department. With regard to material fabrics and cheapness of production, England had for a long time borne off the palm, but it could not be concealed that in correctness of taste and design we had fallen short of many other countries. He believed this might in a great measure be traced to the absence of opportunities enjoyed by the people and the working classes for instruction in the true principles of art, and from ready access to collections of the best works of great artists of the past and present time. He was happy to say that there was a growing disposition on the part of the public to avail themselves of the schools of art lately established throughout the country, that they derived great advantage thereby, and that there was hardly an artisan or mechanic who did not at once recognise the benefits resulting from the instruction imparted. He thought it right incidentally to allude to these points, as they formed part of the motives which had induced Mr. Sheepshanks to make this gift to the nation. Before concluding he felt bound to express the admiration of the Government at the patriotism and munificence of gifts of such a character; and he trusted that such a course might find many imitators, when it was seen that pictures so presented to the nation were placed in buildings proper and suitable for their exhibition, thereby declaring the value and appreciation which the Government and country attached to such gifts. The noble Lord concluded by presentingCopy of Deed of Gift by John Sheepshanks, Esq., of his Collection of Pictures and Drawings, in Trust, to form the Nucleus of a National Gallery of Art in connection with Her Majesty's Department of Science and Art: And also, Copy of a Minute of the President of the Board of Trade.

Ordered to lie on the Table.

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