History Group Papers: 2002

Read an outline of the talks and papers from the National Gallery History Group in 2002:

Meeting Ten: 5 February 2002

The National Gallery Site Question in the mid-19th century: conservation issues and museum planning – Hero Lotti, Courtauld Institute and Chris Whitehead, University of Evansville
The National Gallery Archive does not hold a copy of these papers.

In the mid-19th century the appropriateness of the National Gallery’s home in Trafalgar Square was called into question, and alternative sites were considered. There was concern about the effects of the polluted city atmosphere on the paintings and also about the lack of display space at Trafalgar Square. This seminar considered the conservation issues and ideas about museum planning which emerged in the debate about the site of the Gallery.

Hero Lotti examined the site question in relation to the conservation issues involved. Concern about the site led to attempts to understand the effects of the atmosphere on paintings, and recognition that there was inadequate information available to reach such understanding. The site question also led to the implementation of measures to protect the paintings from the environment of Trafalgar Square, measures that remained in place until the introduction of air-conditioning in the mid-20th century.

Chris Whitehead discussed projects intended to resolve the Gallery site question. The prospect of a new site was an invitation to define the ideal building and display in reference to new ideas about the public museum’s mission. A key debate in this context reviewed the relationships and demarcations between the national collections at the British Museum, the National Gallery and the nascent South Kensington Museum (later the V&A).

Critics and politicians discussed the advantages and means of merging areas of these collections in the pursuit of specific historical visions, allowing visitors to cross-reference objects of different media, age and provenance. Although this project was not pursued directly, the debate allows for fascinating glimpses both of what could have been and of the circumstances that defined the ‘territories’ of the national collections.

Meeting Eleven: 11 June 2002

A Means to Devotion: Clerical-collectors of early Italian art during the nineteenth century – Dr Susanna Avery-Quash, National Gallery
The National Gallery Archive does not hold a copy of this paper.

During the 19th century, the interest in collecting early Italian painting rapidly expanded. Previously, such pictures tended to be acquired merely as curiosities – as historical specimens showing the early development of modern European painting.

However, partly due to the new idea of the superior spiritual merit of these works over the art of later ages (an idea promoted in the writings of Rio, Lindsay and Ruskin), examples of early Italian art were avidly sought after in certain circles. Among the new enthusiasts were numerous clergymen, and this talk discussed the most significant of them, their interests and acquisitions.

William Fuller Maitland’s “Raphael” – Dr Tom de Wesselow, National Gallery
The National Gallery Archive does not hold a copy of this paper.

William Fuller Maitland was one of a band of 19th-century connoisseurs who pioneered a taste in Britain for collecting early Italian paintings. After his death in 1876, a number of works from his collection were sold to the National Gallery by his son and heir, among them two important works by Botticelli.

The jewel in the crown of Fuller Maitland’s collection was a Raphael, which was also bought by the Gallery at the time. The purchase of this painting in particular sheds dramatic light on our changing attitudes towards the relative values of Italian Renaissance paintings.

The National Gallery and the Lanckoronski Uccello – Jacqui McComish, National Gallery
The National Gallery Archive does not hold a copy of this paper.

In 1958 the National Gallery’s Trustees and Director were lamenting their paltry annual purchase grant of £12,500. Within a year they had bought for 10 times that amount Count Antoine Lanckoronski’s beautiful and intriguing painting of St George and the Dragon by Paolo Uccello. The story of the painting and of its acquisition by the Gallery shows art and politics inextricably, and sometimes dramatically, entwined.

Meeting Twelve: 15 October 2002

The Parliamentary Enquiry of 1853: The National Gallery in a European Context – Ellinoor Bergvelt, University of Amsterdam
A paper or related publication is available for consultation in the National Gallery Archive.

In 1853 a Parliamentary Select Committee reported on its investigations into the organisation of the National Gallery. The report included written evidence from a range of European national museums, which provides a valuable insight into the state of these institutions and their views on issues such as museum organisation, acquisition policy, collection arrangement and building design.

Written answers were given by museums in Belgium, Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands and Russia. This seminar examined the similarities and differences between European museums in the middle of the 19th century as revealed by the Select Committee Report of 1853.

Read further papers from the National Gallery History Group