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National Gallery


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London. The British national collection of European paintings from c.1300 to c.1900 (it also includes a few earlier pictures and has recently started to acquire works from the early 20th century). It was founded in 1824 when the government purchased 38 paintings from the collection of John Julius Angerstein, a Russian-born merchant who had died the previous year. Initially they were displayed in his former house at 100 Pall Mall, but further acquisitions (including the bequest of Sir George Beaumont) soon necessitated larger premises, and the present building in Trafalgar Square, designed by William Wilkins, was opened in 1838. In its early days the gallery was run in rather haphazard fashion, but Charles Eastlake, the first person to hold the post of director (1855–65), brought professionalism, flair, and drive to its administration (other notable directors have included Edward Poynter and Kenneth Clark). The gallery shared the premises with the Royal Academy until 1869, by which time it had grown into one of the great collections of the world. Since then there have been various enlargements of the building and in 1991 a major extension was opened—the Sainsbury Wing, the gift of Sir John, Simon, and Timothy Sainsbury. This wing houses the gallery's early paintings, up to about 1510. The collection as a whole now has about 2,300 pictures. This is a fairly modest number compared with the holdings of some of the great Continental galleries based on former royal collections, but the National Gallery's paintings surpass those of any other gallery in giving a balanced view of the mainstream of European painting from Giotto to Cézanne. Best represented of all are the early Italian and Dutch Schools. The representation of the British School is selective because of the existence of Tate Britain as a separate national gallery of British art. Other well-known national galleries, with their dates of foundation, are: the National Gallery of Scotland in Edinburgh (1859); the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne (1859); the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin (1864); the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa (1880); the National Gallery of Art in Washington (1937; see Mellon); and the Australian National Gallery in Canberra (1976).

Subjects: Art.


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