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Stewards of the Nation's Art

Stewards of the Nation's Art: Contested Cultural Authority 1890-1939

Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 368
  • Book Info
    Stewards of the Nation's Art
    Book Description:

    Stewards of the Nation's Artexamines the internal tensions between Britain's four main public art galleries' administrative directors, the aristocrats dominating the boards of trustees, and those in the Treasury who controlled the funds as well as board appointments.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-9870-3
    Subjects: Art & Art History, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Abbreviations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-2)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 3-15)

    In November 1916 a letter was printed in theDaily Telegraphfrom Claude Phillips, the former keeper of the Wallace Collection (and theDaily Telegraph’sart critic), concerning a bill then pending in the House of Lords which would give the trustees of the National Gallery the power to select and sell certain paintings in the gallery’s collection. Phillips wrote: ‘These astonishing provisions would, if they became law, make of the Board of Trustees a veritable Council of Ten, a body of art dictators … Are they, as a Board, competent to exercise these powers? To this I should answer...

  6. Chapter One Four Boards
    (pp. 16-38)

    Between 1890 and 1939 London enjoyed its national art collection through four important public institutions: the National Gallery, founded in 1824; the National Portrait Gallery, established in 1856; the Wallace Collection, which opened in 1897; and the National Gallery of British Art, Millbank, more commonly known as the Tate Gallery, which opened in the same year.¹ The trustees who governed these institutions were appointed by the prime minister. The Treasury, as the department charged with the governance of the nation’s property, enjoyed exclusive jurisdiction over all four institutions and, most important, made recommendations to the prime minister regarding whom to...

  7. Chapter Two Edwardian Philanthropy to the Arts
    (pp. 39-56)

    Between 1890 and 1914 a number of men who served as trustees made extremely generous donations of money and art to sustain and expand the nation’s art collection at the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery.¹ The donations almost always came from rich businessmen. The landed aristocrats on the boards of trustees, largely speaking, did not give or bequeath their paintings; instead they tended to favour a form of ‘chattel primogeniture’ by which they retained collections and assets together and within their families.² There may have been many reasons for this: a desire to keep art collections intact; a...

  8. Chapter Three The Rosebery Minute
    (pp. 57-76)

    During the years 1890–1910 relations between the trustees of the four galleries and the Treasury – the department responsible for overseeing their financial and administrative affairs – were troubled. The Treasury often treated the trustees somewhat dismissively, tending to view them as amateurs, whose judgment (particular in matters financial) was not to be given much credence. This attitude was most apparent in Treasury dealings with the board of the National Gallery, but it was also distinctly present in trustee/Treasury relations at the Wallace Collection and the National Portrait Gallery. Generally, it was a time of great transition, as it was during...

  9. Chapter Four Boards and Directors, 1890–1916
    (pp. 77-100)

    Although it had certainly not been anticipated by Sir George Murray, following the institution of the Rosebery Minute, the National Gallery’s director and the trustees were set at odds, their subsequent dealings invariably marked by angry frustration on the part of the director and hostile umbrage on the part of the trustees. It had not always been so. Under Sir Frederick Burton, who served as director from 1874 to 1894, relations between the director and the trustees appeared to be quite smooth; certainly Burton, who was entirely in charge of both acquisitions and the general administration of the gallery, found...

  10. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  11. Chapter Five The Duchess of Milan
    (pp. 101-129)

    By the turn of the twentieth century, frustration with the aristocracy as keepers of the nation’s culture was demonstrated by two events: the formation in 1903 of the largely middle-class National Art-Collections Fund (NACF) and the 1909 controversy surrounding the Duke of Norfolk’s sale of a Holbein portrait which had belonged to his family for centuries,Christina of Denmark, Duchess of Milan. Both are equally indicative of a growing sense among the British public that the patricians who served as its cultural public figures were no longer viewed as distinguished aristocratic guardians of Britain’s artistic heritage but were increasingly seen...

  12. Chapter Six Lord Curzon’s Committee
    (pp. 130-149)

    Two years after the controversy over the Duke of Norfolk’s Holbein,Christina of Denmark, Duchess of Milan, and shortly after being appointed a trustee of the National Gallery by H.H. Asquith, George Nathaniel Curzon struck a committee of National Gallery trustees to examine the pressing problem of the large numbers of significant art objects being put up for sale, usually by aristocratic families, and, more often than not, sold away to American millionaires or German museums. Assembled and driven almost entirely by his own energy, it took the committee three years to hear witnesses and deliberate before submitting its report...

  13. Chapter Seven Acrimony and Accord, 1918–1939
    (pp. 150-192)

    During the years between the wars, the director of each of the four galleries developed his own unique style of working with his trustees. At the National Portrait Gallery, relations between James D. Milner (who succeeded Sir Charles Holmes when he went to the National Gallery in 1916) and his board continued to be most cordial. This warmth continued with Henry Mendelssohn Hake, who came to the Portrait Gallery as director following Milner’s death in 1927. Similarly, relations between the Tate Gallery’s board of trustees and Charles Aitken, its keeper (now styled ‘director’ after the Tate’s separation from the National...

  14. Chapter Eight Philanthropy between the Wars
    (pp. 193-213)

    During the 1920s and 1930s, the patterns of giving established by Edwardian trustees continued. Aristocrats gave to the national galleries even less frequently than they had before 1914. Some wealthy new men of business who served as trustees carried on the precedent, set by the aristocracy and emulated by Sir Charles Tennant and Alfred de Rothschild, of ‘chattel primogeniture,’ whereby art collections were kept intact and carried down in families. Good examples of this continuing practice may be found in the donation patterns of the trustees Sir Herbert Cook and Sir Philip Sassoon. Both were third-generation baronets, both were trustees...

  15. Conclusion
    (pp. 214-226)

    Between 1890 and 1939 British aristocrats tried to hold onto their cultural influence and authority. Great collectors and patrons of artists who in previous centuries had amassed significant and often publicly accessible collections, British aristocrats had legitimately staked out a position as stewards of the nation’s art. However, during this period both the gentlemen and the players changed. The perceived value of the British aristocracy as keepers of the nation’s culture faded; the aristocratic trustees of the four galleries during the period sought different ways to address this change.

    This book is the story of a challenge for power among...

  16. Appendix: Boards of Trustees
    (pp. 227-232)
  17. Notes
    (pp. 233-288)
  18. Bibliography
    (pp. 289-296)
  19. Index
    (pp. 297-304)