HL Deb 27 June 1861 vol 163 cc1635-41

rose to ask the President of the Council, Whether any steps bad been taken to provide a separate Gallery for Turner's Pictures in connection with the National Gallery, according to the conditions of his Will under which the Nation possesses the Pictures? The Nation under Mr. Turner's will received 324 paintings, and a vast number of water colour drawings, and the Royal Academy had received £20,000, and both the Nation and the Academy appeared to be under the impression that these gifts were received without any conditions. But the pictures were bequeathed to the Nation on conditions, and the Nation took them subject to every condition imposed by the will. On a former occasion when he drew the attention of the House to this subject, the Government then represented by the noble Marquess opposite (Lord Lansdowne) pledged themselves that the intentions of Mr. Turner should be carried out, and his noble Friend (Lord Derby) after he had succeeded to the head of the Government said that he considered him self bound by the declaration of the pre- ceding Government. The conditions upon which the pictures were received were these. Turner by his will gave two of his pictures to the National Gallery upon the terms that they should be permanently placed between two of Claude's, and as to those two pictures no question arose; the condition had always been performed. He also bequeathed his other pictures to the nation, and by a codicil he desired that a gallery should be erected for them, and that his pictures should form a separate collection, to be called the Turner Gallery. By the second codicil, dated in 1848, he gave his finished pictures, except the two previously mentioned, to the Trustees of the National Gallery provided that a room or rooms should be added to the present National Gallery, to be entitled "The Turner Gallery;" and the Trustees were not to have any power over the pictures unless his wishes were fully carried out by them. By a third codicil, also in 1848, he directed that if the Trustees of the National Gallery should not carry out the provisions of his will within five years then the bequest should be void; and by a fourth codicil, in 1849, he enlarged the term to ten years. He had no hesitation in saying that the Nation received these pictures subject to the legal obligation contained in the codicils. But there were higher obligations—moral obligation and national honour. The pictures were removed from the house in Queen Ann Street for fear of fire and for better preservation; but a question arose between Turner's relations and the Trustees of the National Gallery, and a decree made by Vice Chancellor Kindersley declared that all pictures, drawings, and sketches by Turner, whether finished or unfinished, were to be retained for the benefit of the public. This decree established the title of the Nation, but this title was clearly subject to the conditions of the will. It then became necessary to find a home for the pictures, and they were at first placed in Marlborough House, but subsequently another place was required for their reception, and a home was formed at South Kensington. To this arrangement he (Lard St. Leonards) could not object for a board was affixed to the gates of Marlborough House stating that the removal of the pictures to Kensington was only for a temporary purpose. The galleries in which the pictures were now exhibited were lighted by gas on certain evenings. Gas was well known to be highly explosive and other- wise dangerous, so that even if sufficient precautions had been taken to prevent injury to the paintings from the vapours of gas, still there remained a considerable amount of risk. No nation in the world possessed so large and so valuable a collection of paintings by one artist, and it would be a lasting reproach if those inestimable pictures were lost through any want of care. Mr. Ruskin, who, if no authority upon the subject of gas, must be admitted to be a high authority in art, hag written a letter to The Times, exonerating himself from all responsibility for the removal of the pictures to Kensington, and stating his belief that serious injury might be done to the pictures from being exposed to the influence of gas, the works of Turner and Reynolds being peculiarly liable to injury from that cause. Other authorities had expressed the opinion that the use of gas in picture galleries was attended with great risk. After the recent additions to the National Gallery of which he highly approved, he observed with regret that no attempt had been made to perform the undertaking of two successive Governments to which he had before referred. This, therefore, rendered his present inquiry necessary. When Turner had painted a picture which he thought ought to belong to the country no offer of money would induce him to sell it. In the case of the De Talby picture, now in the National Gallery, which had been sold, he bought it back upon Lord de Talby's death at a great price in order to leave it to the Nation, The value of the pictures was enormous, and what now remained to be done was that the Turner Gallery should be annexed to the National Gallery, as part of the possessions of the Nation, and they should be removed from Kensington without delay in order to comply with the conditions upon which the Nation holds them. He had ascertained most satisfactorily that a gallery could now be erected in direct communication with the existing building in Trafalgar Square, and he hoped that no real difficulties would be found to lie in the way of a public grant for the purpose.


was understood to say that he was quite sure the whole of their Lordships had a high admiration of the genius of Turner as a painter, and that they all appreciated the love of art displayed by the noble and learned Lord who had brought forward this subject. With respect to the will of the deceased artist, and the validity of the Nation's title to these pictures, those were points on which he did not feel himself competent to express an opinion, and which he would, therefore, leave to the proper legal authorities. As to the question of what was to be done with this collection, he must say it was at present placed in a building of a perfectly substantial character, and one admirably adapted for the purposes for which it was intended. It had been found, he believed, as perfect as any gallery in Europe for the display of pictures. Several plans had been suggested for providing accommodation for these pictures, but those plans had not yet been fully inquired into, and it would, therefore, be premature to express an opinion on the subject. Then, with regard to the question of the safety of the collection, he must say he did not agree with the apprehensions that had been expressed on that head. He believed this valuable collection was as safe as any pictures could be; and as to their being exhibited by gaslight, immense advantage resulted from that arrangement. The paintings were thereby-showed in a manner in which they had never been seen before, their beauties were well brought out, and open to the inspection of classes of persons who could not visit them except in the evening. In the opinion of Mr. Faraday, Mr. Tindal, and other eminent authorities, not the slightest damage or danger to the pictures need be apprehended from the manner in which the Kensington Museum was lighted. The pictures had all been recently carefully examined, and no injury whatever could be detected. Those from which photographs were taken had been examined only last month, and they were all found entirely free from injury. It was most creditable to the authorities at Kensington Museum that both in winter and summer the ventilation had been of a most perfect character, a good and equable temperature being maintained: and some part of this good result was to be attributed to the assistance of gas in the ventilation. The recommendations of the noble and learned Lord, however, should receive every attention.


was anxious to say a few words on this subject. Their Lordships would easily understand that the Trustees of the National Gallery felt themselves placed in a somewhat embarrassing situation in consequence of the serious ambiguities which attached to the Turner Trust. He must beg to express his sincere thanks to the noble and learned Lord who had now a second time brought this subject distinctly under the notice of the Government, and he trusted under the serious consideration of their Lordships. He had listened to the statement of the noble and learned Lord with great attention and interest, and he wished that he could say that he had listened to the reply of his noble Friend the President of the Council with more unmixed satisfaction. With regard to the general question of these donations and bequests of pictures made to the country he thought it most important, on various grounds, that the Nation should exhibit the most strict and scrupulous fidelity in carrying out the presumed wishes and intentions of the testators. That was necessary on account of the moral effect which must result from such public example of good faith; and, in a secondary sense, it was of great importance as an encouragement to future collectors and lovers of the fine arts, who, stimulated by such noble examples, might be disposed to follow them, and add to the magnificent collection this country already possesses by donations of a similar character. With regard to the particular question now before their Lordships, he expressed the feeling of the whole country when he said it was impossible to speak of Turner's gift to the Nation in too high terms. It was a noble gift—at once a monument of the high point to which British art has been carried in our day, and of what might be accomplished by one man in whom' the great gift of genius was improved and carried out by his own persevering industry and indomitable energy. There was, no doubt, some ambiguity in Mr. Turner's will. He was of a peculiar temperament, and perhaps sensitive in his feelings and wishes as to the mode in which his bequest should be carried out; but, notwithstanding the doubts which had been thrown on the purport of his will, he thought that any one who should faithfully and honourably endeavour to elicit the real Irish and intention of the testator would encounter no great difficulty in arriving at it. He entertained not the slightest doubt that the ambition by which Mr. Turner Was actuated was to demonstrate to the British nation that his works had a right to be brought into immediate contact, comparison, and competition, not merely with the highest productions of his own fellow-countrymen and age, but with the great works of the old and established masters. That this was his principle and wish might be inferred from the fact that the two pic- tures alluded to by the noble and learned Lord now hanging in the National Gallery had been bequeathed distinctly on the condition that they should be hung between the two great pictures by Claude, so that their merits might be put to the severest test by the comparison. Would any man say this was not a noble aspiration? had England any ground to be disssatisfied with the competitive examination, as he might term it, that Turner had instituted? It was an honorable rivalship and might it not be confidently said that to whomsoever the first prize should be awarded the second place might be held without discredit? Having so disposed of these two pictures, and coming to deal with that larger collection of works of art which had proceeded from his single hand, how did Mr. Turner proceed? Amid all ambiguities it was quite clear that he intended these pictures to be given to the Nation, and to be received as a solemn trust; that they should be placed in a gallery by themselves—a gallery to be distinguished and known by his own name, and that the gallery so erected should be in immediate contact with the great National Gallery—still looking to a comparison of his works with the collected works of art in the country. It was for their Lordships and for his noble Friend the President of the Council, who spoke on behalf of the country, to consider whether the present Apartments at Kensington did really carry out the intentions of the donor. It seemed that this collection of Turner's works bad been placed side by side with that given to the country by Mr. Sheepshanks. There was this difference, however, between the two donations. Mr. Sheepshanks, who was no artist himself, had formed a miscellaneous collection of pictures, the productions of artists of the present time, and his magnificent gift was expressly stated to be for the purpose of affording facilities of study to students of art, and with this view it was not to be placed in the hands of any body of trustees but to remain under the control and responsibility of a Minister of the Crown. It was to be specially placed on the site at Kensington, purchased in 1851, and where a School of Art was established. By the arrangements now existing the noble and honourable purpose of Mr. Sheepshanks was fully and faithfully carried out. The gallery of Mr. Vernon, to all appearance, was under the same regulations as that of Mr. Sheepshanks. But the views and di- rections of Mr. Turner were the opposite of all this. The gallery was to be marked by his own name, and no allusion was made by him to schools of art or purposes of study in juxtaposition to the National Gallery for the purpose of direct comparison with the great works of art there assembled was the one predominant feeling and wish indicated in Turner's will. Indeed, he would say that, in proportion as the existing arrangements did full and faithful justice to the terms of the Sheepshanks' donation they failed to do justice to those of Mr. Turner. He believed that if Mr. Turner could have foreseen the present state of things he would have reverted to one of his earlier codicils and would have ordered his pictures to be sold, the proceeds to be placed, perhaps, at the command of the Royal Academy, or some analogous institution. He trusted, however, that the Government would recognize the obligation to carry out the obvious meaning of the will, and that the time was not far distant when the pictures would be placed in a gallery of their own attached to the National Gallery. The question was one which concerned the public honour and good faith and the encouragement of future donors, and he hoped that some arrangement different from that which now exists, and more consonant with the conditions under which the bequest was accepted by the Nation would before long be adopted.


was glad to hear from the Lord President of the Council that the Turner pictures were never so well seen as at present. He was afraid, however, that they ran considerable risk of being destroyed. For his own part, he entertained the greatest apprehensions whenever there was an exhibition by night, and he doubted whether private individuals would expose their collections to the same danger.


said, he was not, from the experience of his own pictures, of opinion that gas was either so dangerous or deleterious as had been represented. Some danger there might he, but not more than could be easily guarded against.