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In Pursuit of Art

In Pursuit of Art: Charles Eastlake’s Journey from Plymouth to the National Gallery

This exhibition was held 22 September – 15 December 2012

The life and legacy of Sir Charles Eastlake (1793–1865), the first director of the National Gallery and seventh President of the Royal Academy, is honoured in this collaboration between the National Gallery, London and Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery. Painter, scholar and arts administrator, Eastlake was born in Devon, a county that has produced many great British artists. This exhibition investigates Eastlake’s artistic development in Plymouth and subsequent activities as a central figure of the Victorian art world in London.

The show will bring together a selection of paintings associated with some of Eastlake’s distinguished (Plymouth-born) art teachers, as well as by his friend J.M.W. Turner, from the collections of Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery and the Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery.

A selection of the Old Master paintings that Eastlake acquired for the National Gallery, during his decade in office, will also be on display, along with rarely-seen documents from the National Gallery’s archive and library that demonstrate the extraordinary lengths which he went to secure these masterpieces. One of Eastlake’s 36 travel notebooks, for instance, will be on show, revealing his thoughts about the authenticity, technique, state of preservation and fairness of the asking price of the pictures he saw.

As Director, Eastlake established new policies on acquisition and display for the Gallery, with the ambition to form a representative account of the history of western European painting.

Initially his priority was to purchase early Italian art, but he went on to acquire later pictures (such as Moroni’s Portrait of a Man holding a Letter) and northern European art (including Jacob van Ruisdael’s A Waterfall in a Rocky Landscape) – both of which will be displayed. Contemporary British art was also added to the collection, notably with Turner’s generous bequest. Ultimately, Eastlake succeeded in transforming the National Gallery into one of Europe’s leading art institutions.

Against the backcloth of his Plymouth and Devon origins, the exhibition reveals what a significant and fascinating figure Eastlake was. The friend of great artists, distinguished politicians and royalty, the legacy that Eastlake left his country will be given fresh and eloquent expression.

22 September – 15 December 2012
Hurdle Gallery, Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery
Admission Free

Opening hours
10am–5.30pm Tuesday to Friday
10am–5pm Saturday
Closed Sunday and Monday

Plymouth City Council
Arts Council England