HL Deb 19 March 1857 vol 144 cc2434-45

LORD ST. LEONARDS rose to call the attention of the House to the bequest by the late Mr. Turner of his pictures and drawings to the nation. Having seen, he said, some time ago in the papers of the day that bequest of pictures to the nation stated, and knowing its great value, he was at first apprehensive that the country might lose the pictures by some neglect to perform the conditions on which the gift was made. With the view of knowing exactly how the matter stood, he inquired for the testamentary papers and the decree, and when he obtained them, which he did not do until a considerable time had elapsed, he gave them a careful perusal, and found that the case assumed a very different aspect, and that although the country was in no danger of losing the bequest, Mr. Turner's intentions were in great danger of being altogether disregarded; but the nation, having taken advantage of the gift, ought to perform the conditions on which it was made. It was difficult to estimate the great value of that gift, but he (Lord St. Leonards) apprehended he spoke in no exaggerated manner if at a moderate view he said it could not be less than £150,000. If the pictures in question were now brought into the market, so highly were they appreciated they would fetch enormous prices; and at a well-regulated sale he had no doubt they would bring in the aggregate sum he had just mentioned. This was a donation to the public, and it included drawings which were above all price ["hear, hear!"] for if England stood, as it confessedly did, at the head of all nations in reference to water-colour drawings, Turner himself has confessedly stood at the head of the water-colour artists of every nation. There was a purity, a brilliancy, a softness and a correctness of execution in his water-colour drawings which delighted every person who saw them. His sketches were most striking from their great power, and his finished drawings it was impossible to over-estimate. But he did what it was extraordinary he should have done, considering he was a painter in oil and such a first-rate artist. In his finished drawings (for of course it was otherwise in his sketches) he altogether abstained from mixing anything with his water-colours, and was, therefore, a pure artist in water-colours. He (Lord St. Leonards) feared that if our water-colour artists, with a view to give to their works the depth and breadth of oil paintings, continued to use body colours, we should have to deplore the result in the deterioration of the art. He knew nothing better calculated to prevent this system from being carried to a deplorable extent than a familiar acquaintance with the inimitable finished drawings of Mr. Turner. He (Lord St. Leonards) did not pretend to be a connoisseur of art, and he had no more knowledge than he had acquired from a genuine admiration of some of the best specimens, and from living, as it were, with pictures constantly before or around him. It was impossible to overrate the position of Mr. Turner with regard to art in this country. If not the first, he certainly stood among the first of English painters, and he had placed his country at the head of all others in reference to drawing in water-colours. In forming a judg- ment of Turner's pre-eminence in art, we should keep in view his vast range of subjects and his poetical treatment of so many of them. He (Lord St. Leonards) must, however, say that his pictures, containing all his various styles, ought not to have been mixed together in the way they had been, and that a greater attempt ought to have been made to classify them. He believed that Turner's habit throughout his lifetime was this. With his great genius he had that which alone made genius valuable—untiring industry and a determination never to lose an opportunity of pursuing the art to which he was wedded. When he painted a picture, if he did not sell it immediately, his love for it increased the longer he kept it, and that was the way in which so many of his pictures had been accumulated. In his lifetime he would paint pictures on commission, but he would not sell a picture which he had painted without a commission and to which he had become attached. The picture in the National Gallery, which he calls the "De Tabley" picture, was actually sold, but he bought it back himself at what was then a very large price. In order to draw their Lordships' attention to the obligations the nation was under to Mr. Turner's memory, he would state shortly what Mr. Turner's testamentary dispositions were. He (Lord St. Leonards) believed they had not been understood. He could not believe there was any intention to go in direct opposition to the wishes and injunctions expressed by the testator; but he believed there was a general notion that his testamentary dispositions were altogether void and binding upon no one. When, however, he (Lord St. Leonards) remembered who were the trustees of the National Gallery—particularly when he saw the noble Marquess opposite (the Marquess of Lansdowne), who was so well versed in art and so great a patron of it—he had only to point out to the noble Marquess and to their Lordships what was right and fair in this matter to have it put on a footing consistently with the real intentions of the testator, supposing they thought his suggestions right and fair. Unfortunately, Mr. Turner had bad advice and assistance in the preparation of his testamentary dispositions, and the consequence was that it was very difficult to discover what were his real intentions. But it was not impossible to do so; and he (Lord St. Leonards) had no hesitation in saying that, by carefully comparing the language and phrases used by the testator in different parts of his testamentary dispositions, he had quite made out every intention which he had entertained in making those dispositions. By his will he gave the two pictures of "Dido building Carthage," the "De Tabley" picture, and "The Calm," which hands down his name to posterity, to the nation, on condition that they should be placed in the National Gallery between two Claudes, which he describes as the Mill (the Isaac and Rebecca), and the Seaport (the Queen of Sheba). He (Lord St. Leonards) had no doubt the trustees of the National Gallery had intended to comply with Mr. Turner's condition in this respect as far as was in their power. Mr. Turner meant that the two pictures, the "Dido building Carthage" and "The Calm," should be placed between "the Queen of Sheba" and the "Isaac and Rebecca." But for want of space the Dido picture has been placed between the "two Claudes" and "The Calm" over the Dido. This exposes the Dido to a powerful competition, although Turner is much indebted to the cleaner, for the harsh, hard, crude state in which the Mill picture is left. "The Calm" is in danger, by-and-by, of having some other two pictures placed on each side of it; but the noble and learned Lord proceeded to say that he was not finding fault with the hanging, because he considered the trustees had done all they could in this respect, and really meant to do justice to both painters. He should now proceed to state the nature of the gifts in Turner's complicated will and codicils, so as to enable the House to understand them without perplexing it with technicalities. The will was very simple. It gave the "Dido building Carthage" and the "De Tabley" picture to the National Gallery. All the rest of his estate, real and personal, was to be converted into money, and the produce was to be invested in Consols, which with his own Consols were to form one fund, out of which certain legacies and annuities were to be paid, and the residue was to form and support a charitable institution for poor and decayed male British artists. A suitable building was to be provided for that purpose. It was to be called "Turner's Gift." This will was dated in 1831, twenty years before his death. At that time he manifestly intended whatever pictures he then had, except the two given to the National Gallery, to be sold for the benefit of his institution, but he did not make any mention of them. They might assume that this general gift was void under the Mortmain Act, as it was necessary to buy land for the institution. In the next year, 1832, he made a codicil (which was not attested, but that was now immaterial), by which, referring to "Turner's Gift," he directed a gallery to be built out of his Consols to hold his pictures, so as to keep and preserve them as a collection of his works to be viewed gratuitously. His money in the funds was to be for the endowment of this gallery and of the charity. But he appeared to have intended this to operate only in case there should not be any legal objection to "Turner's Gift." If within five years after his death that could not be carried into effect, then he revoked the gift in his will, and the funds set apart for it were to form part of the residue of his estate. He then disposed of the residue. He first directed his executors to keep all his pictures in his Queen Anne Street house entire and unsold, the whole to be supported by his Stock in the Bank, and to be held as "Turner's Gallery." Then, after giving certain life annuities, he left the residue of his property in the funds to the trustees of the Royal Academy, subject to their having on his birth-day an annual dinner, the cost of which was to be £50; and if £60 more should be left it was to go to a professor of landscape, or in providing a Turner's gold medal for the best landscape every two years. If the trustees did not accept of this offered residue, he gave it to one of his legatees. It was manifest that he considered his residue at that time as of small amount. In 1846 he made a codicil, afterwards cancelled and in part illegible, which was only material as it showed clearly that the Royal Academy were not to be his residuary legatees. In 1848, seventeen years after the first codicil, after revoking several annuities and legacies, he gave his finished pictures, except the two mentioned in his will, to the Trustees of the National Gallery, provided that a room or rooms were added to the present National Gallery, to be, when erected, called "Turner's Gallery," in. which such pictures were to be constantly kept and preserved; and until such rooms should be erected, the pictures were to remain in the Gallery and house in Queen Anne Street, and he made provision for them accordingly. He then expressly provided—their Lordships would observe his anxiety—that the pictures should not be removed from the house and gallery unless and until the rooms were attached to the gallery, nor should the Trustees of the National Gallery have any power whatsoever over the pictures unless his wish, as before declared, was fully carried out by them. It was his will that either the pictures should remain, and be called "Turner's Gallery," and be the property of the nation, or that they should remain entire at his house and gallery during the lease. He directed the lease to be renewed, "to the intent that such pictures might always remain and be one entire gallery," to be seen by the public gratuitously; but in case the trustees should not be able to renew the lease of his gallery, the pictures were to be sold. He added no further directions. By a codicil of the same date he fixed the period, which has expired, within which the trustees of the National Gallery were to comply with his will or the bequest to them was to be void. By the last codicil, in 1849, he limited the time to ten years after his death. If Turner's Gallery was not erected within that time the gift was to be void, and his pictures were to be exhibited by his trustees gratuitously during the lease of his house, except the last two years of that term, and then they were to sell the pictures. Out of the produce he gave, first, £1,000 to the pension fund of the Royal Academy, provided they gave a Turner's medal for landscape painting; secondly, legacies to several charitable institutions, "and the residue of the produce to fall into the residue of his estate for the benefit of the intended hospital in his will mentioned," When the persons interested got together, the question arose what was to be done, and Bills were filed in Chancery. The result of that proceeding was that, all the persons concerned were represented, except, indeed, the memory of Mr. Turner, and an arrangement was come to which was confirmed by a decree of Vice Chancellor Kindersley, than whom no more eminent and painstaking man sat upon the judicial bench. It was, however, to be remembered that the Court was in the habit of abiding to a considerable extent by the opinion of counsel in cases where an arrangement was agreed to, and that, no doubt, was the case on the occasion to which he had referred. By that decree, the Court having before it the heirs at law and next of kin, and the executors and the Trustees of the Royal Academy, and the Attorney General, declared by consent that all the pictures, drawings and sketches, by Turner's hand 'were to be deemed as well given for the benefit of the public.' And when selected in manner thereby directed, hey were to be retained by the Trustees for the time being of the National Gallery; and, by like consent, the Court declared that the Trustees of the Royal Academy were entitled to the sum of £20,000 sterling, free from legacy duty. The heirs were to take the real estate, and the next of kin were declared entitled to the leasehold house in Queen Anne Street, and the residue of the personal estate, of which £20,000 3 per cents. were to be transferred to them at once. The Academy Trustees waived their claim to the legacy of £1,000 bequeathed to their pension fund, and all other benefits under the will and codicil. Now, in point of law, the Royal Academy was not entitled to one single shilling of the property of Mr. Turner, under any provision of his will, so that they had obtained £20,000 to which they had no more right than he himself had. Now, for his part, he should have thought that the Royal Academy, of which he desired to speak with all respect, would have been willing to lay out that sum of money in a way to do honour to Turner's memory. Nothing would have been more easy than to apply that money to form a gallery which would contain the pictures bequeathed to be added to the National Gallery, or, at all events, how easy to apply some portion of it to increase the sum of £1,000 which was to be employed in the erection of a monument to Turner in the place where such a monument ought to be erected—St. Paul's Cathedral. There were also many other modes in which that money might have been applied to the perpetuation of Turner's memory. After he had made himself master of the facts of the case, he had felt it, to be his duty to write a civil letter to Sir C. Eastlake, the President of the Royal Academy and the Director of the National Gallery, telling him that he was about to bring the matter before their Lordships' House, and asking him in the first place whether the Royal Academy considered that they were entitled to £20,000, free from all condition or liability; and, secondly, whether the trustees of the National Gallery considered that they held the pictures of the late Mr. Turner discharged from all the conditions imposed by the gift. In answer to that letter Sir C. Eastlake had informed him that the Trustees of the Royal Academy, and the Trustees of the National Gallery held the bequests of the late Mr. Turner under a decree of Vice Chancellor Kindersley, to which decree he begged to refer him. Now, perhaps he understood the meaning of a decree of a Court of Chancery as well as Sir C. Eastlake, but what he had wished to elicit from that gentleman was whether the Trustees of the National Gallery or the Royal Academy considered that they were discharged from all the obligations laid down in Mr. Turner's bequest? Sir C Eastlake added in his note that the Royal Academy, from a desire to carry out the wishes of Turner, had instituted a gold medal for landscape painting, to be called the "Turner Medal." It thus appeared that, having taken £20,000 without being entitled to a single shilling, the Academy thought they would discharge their obligations by paying £20 for a gold medal once in two years. There could be no doubt from the tenor of his note that the opinion of Sir C. Eastlake was that the pictures were held subject to no conditions. It was to be hoped, however, that the Royal Academy, as they desired to stand well with their fellow-countrymen, and to honour the memory of their late brother in art, would seriously consider how much of the £20,000 they could properly spend in carying out the wishes of Turner. As to the pictures, even supposing that the terms of the will were to some extent inoperative in law, he contended that the nation having got possession of the pictures was bound to comply with the conditions. But there was nothing in the decree of Vice Chancellor Kindersley to favour the view which seemed to be taken by Sir C. Eastlake. That decree declared that the finished pictures were well given by Turner to the Trustees of the National Gallery, which implied that the nation could not hold them except by complying with the conditions. Turner was evidently afraid of trusting too much to a public body, although that body represented the nation, and therefore provided that until the Turner Gallery was erected the pictures should not be taken out of his house in Queen Anne Street. He also provided that the trustees of the National Gallery should have no power over the pictures unless and until the Turner Gallery was built. The house in Queen Anne Street, by consent of all parties, had been handed over to the next of kin without any condition as to the pictures remaining there, and the Trustees of the National Gallery, as the Queen Anne Street house was no longer available for the purpose, might stand excused for having taken pos session of the pictures. But what had been done? If ever an intention was clearly and strongly expressed by a testator, so as to render escape from its injunctions impossible, it was the direction of Turner that the National Gallery trustees should not have possession of his pictures unless and until they had built a gallery for their reception. No attempt had been made to build a gallery, and instead of keeping the pictures entire in one collection, according to the provision in the codicil of 1848, the trustees had put a certain number of them in what had been called the "dark holes" of Marlborough-house. I Some of the finest were exhibited there to great disadvantage, and, as if to cast ridicule upon the memory of Turner, the "Calais Pier" had placed above and alongside of it a number of his later pictures, which, although remarkable for their reproduction of aerial effects and management of light, were not worthy of his undoubted genius, and certainly should not have been placed in juxta-position with one of his fine paintings. The first thing which the Trustees of the National Gallery ought to do was to remove the pictures from Marlborough-house and keep them safely in custody until the whole could be shown in one gallery. He hoped, also, that when they were exhibited in one gallery they would not be mixed up together, or placed merely according to their age, but would be arranged according to their subjects, but still not mixing up what he (Lord St. Leonards) would term his skyrocket pictures, with those of an earlier period. There were in the collection a great many unfinished pieces which ought certainly to be exhibited, as they would be of immense benefit to students. Very few artists knew where to begin in copying one of Turner's pictures, but these unfinished sketches would enable students to learn how Turner himself commenced his works. While he was on the subject of the National Gallery, he might say that, during a recent visit to that institution, he had been struck by observing the statue of Wilkie standing alone, the sole representative of British art while very few paintings by British artists remained in the Gallery. Nearly all the pictures there were those of foreign masters, and he was at a loss to understand why the statue of Wilkie should be placed among a collection of foreign paintings. It was also somewhat singular that Wilkie's pictures had been removed from the National Gallery to Marlborough-house, and yet a foreigner; would surely ask at the Gallery for Wilkie's master-pieces. With regard to the glazing of some of the pictures in. the Gallery, he thought it might be very advisable in particular cases, but he considered that the painting of Bacchus and Ariadne, one of the finest in the whole collection, had been completely spoiled by having glass placed before it. The charm of the picture consisted of the manner in which Bacchus had, he might say, hurled himself from the car, and yet you felt convinced that he would reach the ground in safety, and well might Ariadne endeavour to escape. But now when you are near the picture, the charm is dispelled; Bacchus is arrested in his descent, and you wonder that Ariadne should deem it necessary to flee. In the great Rubens' room there is a remarkable instance of want of taste: over the centre of the fine picture of "Peace and War," which fills the space below, a poultry-yard with a favourite cock by Hondekocter is placed, and the sooner it is removed the better. But he could not forbear expressing his admiration generally of the late rehanging of the pictures. The "Sebastian del Piombo" in particular now shows the back-ground for the first time in this country. He might once more call the attention of the trustees to the necessity not of obstructing but of regulating the admission of the public. He would exclude no one: from the "Prince to the Peasant" all should be admitted. But we owed it as a duty to preserve the pictures for posterity. The Gallery should not be open as a common market. You are desired to clean your shoes, &c., but proper persons should be stationed to see that persons with wet clothes or the like should not be admitted so as to injure the paintings. When it rains, people rush into the Gallery as a place of shelter and it is made too much perhaps a place of meeting for business or other purposes. When the rooms are reasonably full, none should be admitted until others have departed. Simple rules for the benefit of all would be cheerfully submitted to by all.


said that, as he was one of the Trustees of the National Gallery, and as he was also connected with the Government, who felt it their duty to assist heartily in carrying out the intentions of Mr. Turner with respect to his magnificent bequest, it might be expected that he should say a few words on the subject. He concurred in everything the noble Lord had said in expressing his admiration of the talents and reputation of the late Mr. Turner, and he could assure the noble Lord that the object of the Trustees had been to give the public, as soon as possible, the full benefit of the pleasure and instruction which were to be derived from that gentleman's magnificent and munificent bequest. But, although Mr. Turner could draw everything else, there was one thing he could not draw—namely, a will. All the parties who were interested in Mr. Turner's will—the executors, the family, and the representatives of the public—agreed that it was impossible to carry out its provisions; but a liberal compromise was effected, and the terms of that compromise were set forth in an elaborate decree of the Vice Chancellor, against which no appeal had been made. The noble and learned Lord said that the Trustees would have done better to have left the pictures in Mr. Turner's house where they found them, than to have removed them as they had done. But he (the Marquess of Lansdowne) thought, if the noble and learned Lord had inspected the house, he would have been satisfied that, had they remained there, they would have been doomed to utter destruction in the course of a year or two. Under these circumstances, it was the first duty of the Trustees to provide for the safety of the I pictures, and they had accordingly placed them in security in the only place then at their command—what had been called the cellar of the National Gallery. There was no place at present available so well calculated for the proper display of the pictures as Marlborough-house, but they certainly ought not to remain there, and the Government were prepared to carry into effect at the earliest possible moment that part of Mr. Turner's will which directed that they should be placed in a separate gallery. If there had been any delay in doing this, it was because inquiries were now going on, and plans were under consideration for the erection of a great National Gallery, and it would not be advisable that any plan should be hastily adopted for the Turner Gallery which would interfere in any way with the larger design. He, could undertake to say, however, for the present Govern- ment, and he thought he might undertake to say as much for their successors, that the great object of Turner would never be lost sight of, and that there would always be a disposition on the part of the Government to give every facility for the study of his pictures; but whether it would be in a separate building or in a gallery built for them in connection with the future National Gallery, it was impossible at present to say. He did not feel himself competent to discuss the legal point of the question, but he hoped that the decision of Vice Chancellor Kindersley, which was concurred in by all the parties interested, would be allowed to rest undisturbed.


thought that the discussion which had taken place on this subject pointed out the necessity of losing no time in the erection, on a judicious plan, of a new National Gallery. By this means all the suggestions of the noble and learned Lord would be satisfactorily accomplished, the public mind would be instructed, the interest of art advanced, and an opportunity would be afforded of doing justice to the memory of a great artist, and of displaying the national gratitude for his magnificent bequest.


said, he was sure from what he knew of Sir Charles Eastlake, that in writing the letter which his noble and learned Friend had read it never was his intention to write anything which would be in any way painful or offensive. Sir Charles Eastlake was the last man to write a reply of that sort. Most probably he had written that letter as the official answer of the Royal Academy, and had therefore confined it to a simple statement—the legal settlement of the question put to him.


in reply, expressed himself fully satisfied with the pledge by the noble Marquess on the part of the Trustees of the National Gallery, and of the Government to carry out the directions of Mr. Turner; but as the noble Marquess still seemed to think that the nation was legally entitled to the pictures discharged of all conditions, he must repeat that the decree, having declared that the pictures were well given by the will, they must be taken as they were given by the will, and consequently subject to all the conditions just as if they had been repeated in the decree.

House adjourned at a quarter-past Seven o'clock, till To-morrow, half-past Three o'clock.