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Archive reference number



These files relate to the design and mounting of specific exhibitions. They include material relating to planning, loans, sponsorship, press, publicity and associated events such as audio-visual programmes and education study days.

Record type


Administrative history

Loan exhibitions were not regularly held at the Gallery until the 1960s. Prior to that the Gallery had held small exhibitions either displaying works of art from other institutions which had temporarily closed (e.g. the National Portrait Gallery at the end of the First World War and the Walker Art Gallery and Tate Gallery during and after the Second World War) or paintings from the Gallery's own collection that were normally displayed in the reserve galleries. The Trustees had decided that temporary exhibitions would only become more feasible if special accommodation could be provided for them. Several exhibitions did take place during and immediately after the Second World War, usually arranged by the War Artists Advisory Committee and the Arts Council, due to the general evacuation of the collection to Wales.
The completion of reconstruction work gave some albeit limited space for loan exhibitions and there were several major exhibitions, although this did involve some displacement of the permanent collection. The construction of a new Board Room in 1963 (located in part of the space now occupied by the Portico Entrance shop) enabled the Gallery to use this space to mount a series of small exhibitions, often based around a single picture.
When the northern extension opened in June 1975 the NG was able to expand its exhibitions programme by using the extension's central room as a dedicated exhibition space (known as the Special Exhibition Room). The Board Room continued to be used for small exhibitions and the Gallery also used the entire northern extension for an opening exhibition in 1975 (The rival of nature - Renaissance painting in its context) and the Central Hall for the 150th anniversary exhibition in 1974. Other larger exhibitions started to follow, using rooms in the northern extension as well as the dedicated exhibition spaces. At the Trustees meeting of 7 October 1976, the Director raised the desirability of establishing an Exhibitions Section. However, lack of funds for additional staff members meant that the plan could not be executed. At the Trustees meeting of 2 June 1977, the Director announced that Alistair Smith, the Deputy Keeper, had been was appointed as Head of Exhibitions. Smith worked with associated departments at the Gallery to mount exhibitions.
The Bernard and Mary Sunley Room opened in September 1984. This gave the NG more flexibility in exhibition space than the northern extension's Special Exhibitions Room although the gallery was still not able to host the huge international blockbusters - although at this time the gallery was not particularly interested in doing so. In the early 1980s the gallery also began mounting exhibitions by the Education Department with a focus on art for young people and children.
In November 1989, the Exhibitions and Display Department was formed to bring together a number of related functions and to develop an administrative group to organise and mount temporary exhibitions. The projected expansion of the exhibitions programme which would follow the opening of the Sainsbury Wing in 1991 made it essential to have a full-time Exhibitions and Display Department. The Department included the Head of Exhibitions and Display, the Registrar, a Picture Movement Officer, and an Exhibitions Officer. The new Head of Exhibitions was a curator, Michael Wilson. He was responsible for planning and co-ordinating the exhibitions programme in conjunction with the curatorial team. He was also responsible for the co-ordination of the display of the permanent Collection, and the overall appearance of the galleries. The Registrar was responsible for inventorying the Collection, for the administration of loans in and out of the Gallery, and for transport and indemnity arrangements. The Picture Movement Officer co-ordinated internal picture handling, supervised the Working Party and was responsible for packing and storing (the Working Party was re-established as the Picture Handling Department in September 1992, which was re-named as the Art Handling Department in 1996). The Exhibitions Officer assisted the Head of Exhibitions on administrative matters.
In November 1992 the Collections database became operational. Initially, all picture movements were recorded daily, and checked against print-outs. Further information about each picture was added gradually
A new temporary exhibition space in Room 1 was created in September 1995 designed to take small displays of single pictures or groups of pictures.
In 1997 the Art Handling Department and the Registrar's office transferred from the Exhibitions Department to the Conservation Department. In 1997 the Head of Exhibitions and Display became responsible for managing Front of House activities, including Information and Theatre Administration.

Custodial history

The files were initially derived from the individual curators responsible for the exhibtion. From the 1970s they were mostly generated by the Exhibitions Department and are supplemented by material from the Director, Registrar, curatorial files and departments such as Development and the Press Office.

Related material

See NG16/476 for a list of wartime exhibitions. See NGXX for exhibitions planning and proposals.

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