Behind the Scenes at the National Gallery

Tour with Dr Susanna Avery-Quash

Monday 6 March 2023, 4.30 – 6.00 pm

National Gallery Library and Archive, Trafalgar Square, London WC2N 5DN (Map)

An image of a woman reading an old book in a library setting. She wears white cotton gloves to handle the object.
A view of a researcher in the Research Centre, National Gallery, London.

This site visit is aimed to introduce some key individuals and episodes in early decades of the National Gallery’s history around its foundation in 1824 and around its reconstitution in 1855. Our tour will start with a visit to the Library where we will talk through a select group of important historical documents related to the work of the first director Sir Charles Eastlake to professionalise the management of the gallery, including in relation to cataloguing the pictures. The second leg of the tour will take place in the main floor galleries where we will look at the very different kinds of paintings that entered the national collection at two key moments in its history: firstly, the foundation collection of John Julius Angerstein which was purchased in 1824 and secondly, Eastlake’s pioneering purchases of early Italian pictures after his appointment as first Director in 1855.

Please note: Meet at the West Entrance/Research Centre Entrance (black door labelled Research Centre to the left of the Portico Entrance).

Booking will open soon for this event.

A History of Hanging! 200 Years of Display at the National Gallery

Lecture by Dr Susanna Avery-Quash

Monday 20 March 2023, 6.00 – 7.30 pm

Keynes Library, 43 Gordon Square, London WC1H 0PD (Map)

A picture gallery, probably 18th century. The walls are filled with paintings while seated viewers look on.
Frederick Mackenzie, The National Gallery when at Mr Angerstein’s House, Pall Mall (exhibited 1834). Victoria and Albert Museum.

This talk will consider the different ways in which different kinds of paintings have been displayed at London’s National Gallery since its foundation in 1824 and what this reveals about taste as well as ideas concerning the purpose of public art galleries. Originally, the small collection of Grand Manner pictures was shown in an aesthetic arrangement in a Georgian London town house in Pall Mall. After the Gallery moved into purpose-built accommodation on Trafalgar Square in 1838, the picture display became very unsystematic largely due to the chronic lack of space, which only worsened as the collection expanded. However, things radically changed after the Gallery was reconstituted in 1855, when it was decided that it should aim to become a survey collection of western European painting from its origins in the thirteenth century, and an annual purchase grant was established. Sir Charles Eastlake, appointed that year as the first Director, not only started to purchase early Italian and Netherlandish paintings, but also began to hang the entire collection by date and school, a system still used today.

Dr Susanna Avery-Quash is Senior Research Curator in the History of Collecting at the National Gallery. She is in charge of the pre-1900 objects in the Gallery’s History Collection and is responsible for activities associated with the Gallery’s research strand ‘Buying, Collecting and Display’. Her research and publications focus on important private and public art collections, especially the National Gallery; trends in artistic taste, especially for the Old Masters; and the historical art market. She is a trustee of The Society for the History of Collecting; The International Art Market Studies Association (TIAMSA); and the Francis Haskell Memorial Fund; a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries; and is a Specialist Volunteer for the National Trust. She is an Honorary Research Fellow at Birkbeck, University of London, and at the University of Buckingham’s Humanities Research Institute.

Booking will open soon for this event.