National Gallery Celebrates Its 188th Birthday Today




On 10 May 1824 the National Gallery opened its doors to the public for the first time.  The modest collection housed at 100 Pall Mall became the basis for the vast repository of masterpieces now seen in Trafalgar Square.

In the early 19th century the idea of forming a National Gallery circulated for quite a few years before serious attempts were made to realize the idea.  Sir George Beaumont had offered his private collection to the state on the condition there were suitable gallery spaces to maintain and present the works.  However, the basis of the collection draws from the purchase of thirty-eight paintings from the Angerstein Collection for £57,000.  The works from the Collection are not particularly well-known today and included primarily Italian paintings.  Among the collection were the Raising of Lazarus by Sebastian del Piombo, Venus and Adonis by Titian, and Bacchus and Silenus by Titian.  Mr. William Seguier was appointed as the first Keeper of the Gallery and it was under his administration that the collections began to grow. 

The Royal Academy had been founded just over half a century previously, and the public and government officials were conflicted in their views regarding the two institutions.  With the building of the now iconic Trafalgar Square building, many believed it should house the more established Royal Academy instead of the still new and small National Gallery.  Finally in 1869 when the Royal Academy took up residence in the majestic Burlington House, the National Gallery could be left in peace to grow and develop into the institution we know today.

Words: Emily Sack © 2012 ArtLyst

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