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200 Years of The National Gallery

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Authored by Nishah Malik
Published on 10th May, 2024 2 min read

200 Years of The National Gallery

Today (10/05/2024) marks the bicentenary of The National Gallery—it was founded by the British government in 1824. 

The National Gallery, located in Trafalgar Square in London, is considered to be one of the world’s finest galleries. It is home to over 2,300 pieces, including many famous paintings, such as The Arnolfini Portrait by Jan van Eyck (1434); J. M. W. Turner’s The Fighting Temeraire (1838); Vincent van Gogh’s Sunflowers (1871); and Diego Velázquez’s so-called “The Rokeby Venus” (1651). Indeed, the paintings in the gallery’s distinguished collection date from the mid thirteenth century to the 1900s. All major traditions within Western European art are therefore represented, from the artists of late medieval and renaissance Italy, to the French Impressionists.

Unlike other famous art galleries in Europe, The National Gallery was not formed from an existing royal or princely art collection. It was founded when the British government bought thirty eight paintings from the heirs of financier and collector, John Julius Angerstein. This collection contained works by, for example, the Italian artist Sebastiano del Piombo. When it opened in 1824, the gallery was located in Angerstein's former townhouse at No. 100 Pall Mall, in the St James’ area of London. 

During its early years, the paintings exhibited at the gallery were chosen mainly by its directors and by the private donations that the institution received, particularly the hefty donation that came from the art collector, Sir George Beaumont, in 1826. Beaumont donated his collection of paintings to the British nation under the condition that they would be taken care of and displayed.

After some time, the initial location became extremely small and overcrowded. In 1832 construction began on a new site in Trafalgar Square. This now iconic London building was designed by the architect William Wilkins. It opened to the public in 1838.  

In order to celebrate 200 years of bringing people and paintings together, The National Gallery is embarking on a year-long festival of art, creativity, and imagination. Between May 2024 and May 2025, the gallery will be conducting a road trip, travelling to 18 places across the UK. Throughout this road trip, the gallery will be hosting community led art projects for people who have limited access to creative opportunities. The National Gallery will also be lending 12 of the most iconic paintings in their collection to 12 venues across the UK. Each of the venues will be organising events and exhibitions to showcase these works of art. 

Happy 200th anniversary to The National Gallery! 

Authored by Nishah Malik

Nishah Malik

Nishah Malik is Collections Editor at British Online Archives. Nishah gained a Masters in History from the University of Derby in 2020. Her research interests centre around South Asian culture and heritage, as well as the history and experiences of the South Asian diaspora. She also has a keen interest in women's history.

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The British Online Archives Notable Days diary is a platform intended to mark key dates and events throughout the year. The posts draw attention to historical events and figures, as well as recurring cultural traditions and international awareness days, in both religious and secular contexts.

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