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Discoveries: New Research into British Collections

Issued November 2007

Room B.
21 November 2007–10 February 2008
Admission Free

Fascinating discoveries revealed in exhibition – New database of paintings in UK museums and galleries – Discover the richness of our public collections.

'Discoveries: New Research into British Collections' is an exciting new exhibition that provides the opportunity to discover some of the hidden treasures held in Britain’s public art collections. Discoveries coincides with the launch of a new online database offering the chance to explore nearly 8,000 paintings in UK museums and galleries.

'Discoveries' will celebrate the work of the National Inventory Research Project (NIRP) – a groundbreaking research project designed to gather and present information about Britain's public art collections, based at the University of Glasgow, with Birkbeck College (University of London) and the National Gallery as partners. Researchers have gone into regional museums to shed new light on European paintings from 1200 to 1900 – uncovering a variety of stories, interpreting symbolism, suggesting attributions and enhancing understanding of a wide range of pictures. The exhibition features eight paintings, spanning 500 years, from institutions across the country. These important examples of the NIRP team’s findings highlight the success of the project, and show how the work has benefited museums and the public alike.

The exhibition will reveal some secret stories uncovered by the new research. The Victoria Art Gallery in Bath secured an attribution for its 'Death of Cleopatra' by Benedetto Gennari – and learnt, in the process, that it had been owned by a notorious ‘ladies man’. A fierce revolutionary young woman in the Bowes Museum’s painting 'The Barricade at Port St Denis, 1848' emerged as a real historical figure, killed during the confrontation, rather than an allegorical personification. Buckinghamshire Art Gallery learnt that its 'Landscape through Architectural Setting (Courtyard at the Rubenshuis)' might well be one of the earliest known images of the courtyard and studio of the home of the famous artist Rubens. And Falmouth Art Gallery found that one of its most popular exhibits, 'The Ark on Mount Ararat', has a close cousin in an Italian royal collection – an important work that was commissioned by Vittorio Emanuele II, first King of Italy.

The exhibition will coincide with the launch of the project’s online database of nearly 8,0000 paintings from over 200 UK museums and galleries, providing public access to information discovered as a result of the NIRP – information which has already resulted in many new collection displays and educational initiatives in the institutions involved. The website will be made publicly accessible through the Arts and Humanities Data Service. There will also be a link to the database from the National Gallery’s website Visitors to 'Discoveries' will have access to the database through a kiosk positioned in the exhibition space.

Notes to editor:

Partners: Birkbeck College, University of London, the University of Glasgow, the Arts and Humanities Data Service

The National Inventory Research Project (NIRP) was initiated by the National Gallery, London, the University of Glasgow and Birkbeck, University of London, in liaison with colleagues in other national and regional institutions. The project is intended to address two issues: the decline in collection research in UK museums, and the lack of publicly accessible information about collections, especially in regional museums. Before the National Inventory Research Project was initiated, many museums were unable to undertake research or to publish detailed catalogues or even checklists of their holdings. Work began in 2004, and since then a team of researchers has been working on groups of art collections across Britain. The project has enabled museums and galleries to research and catalogue their collections (in some cases for the first time), and in the course of the project, much new information has been discovered. As a result, many new programmes of displays, exhibitions and conservation have been initiated, and visitors have been able to find out more about paintings in collections throughout the UK.

The Research Project has been awarded grants from the Getty Foundation, the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Samuel H. Kress Foundation. Research contributing to the database has also been enabled by grants from the Pilgrim Trust, made to 29 participating museums and through the Neil MacGregor Scholarship scheme, which has supported ten scholars via private donation.

The Public Catalogue Foundation is a registered charity established in 2002 with distinct but complementary aims to those of the National Inventory Research Project: it is producing, county by county, catalogues in book form of all oil paintings in public collections. The two projects are co-operating wherever possible


The exhibition is curated by Dr Nancy Ireson, Assistant Curator, Exhibitions Department at the National Gallery

Dates and opening hours

Press View: 21 November 2007, 8.30am–10.30am
Open to public: 21 November 2007–10 February 2008
Daily 10am–6pm, Wednesdays until 9pm
Last admission 5.15pm (8.15pm Wednesdays)
Admission free


Publicity images for 'Discoveries: New Research into British Collections' can be obtained from To obtain a username please contact the National Gallery Press Office, telephone 020 7747 2865 or email

For public information, please contact 020 7747 2885 or e-mail The National Gallery, Trafalgar Square London WC2N 5DN

For further press information please contact:
Natalia Yanez Exner on 020 7747 2596 or e-mail

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