A nation of art lovers, not shopkeepers: Britain leads the world in survey of galleries

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The Independent Online

Britain leads the world in its love of art and culture, according to the latest statistics on galleries and museums. An authoritative survey of visitors to the world's leading art attractions shows that seven British galleries in the top 30 most visited pulled in more than 22.5 million people in 2007, beating France's 16.9 million and 17.7 million in the US.

In visits to the world's top 60 galleries, Britain's tally leapt to 25.2 million, a bare 100,000 behind America's 25.3 million, despite the much larger population of the US and more numerous galleries and museums in cities such as Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

The survey was carried out by the respected Art Newspaper, whose editor, Cristina Ruiz, described Britain's strong display as "extraordinary".

She added: "It shows there is a real appetite for culture. It is also important to stress the impact of free admission to Britain's galleries and museums. Compare Tate Modern, with 5.1 million visitors and where you can take your family for free, to New York's Museum of Modern Art, which in some ways has a stronger collection but is one of the most expensive museums in the world, and only had 2.2 million visitors."

Scotland, in particular, makes a strong showing. Glasgow's Kelvingrove art gallery and museum saw more visitors pass through its doors last year than the Uffizi in Florence or New York's Museum of Modern Art. A third of the Kelvingrove's 2.2 million visitors were from the city itself (each going three times on average). A third came from elsewhere in Scotland and a third were tourists, most from other parts of Britain.

Britain didn't have it all its own way, however. Paris took the top two spots for most visited galleries – the Louvre, with 8.3 million visitors last year and the Pompidou Centre with 5.5 million. The British Museum, was third in the global table, with 5.4 million visitors.

The most visited art attraction in the world in 2007 was the National Gallery's Manet to Picasso exhibition, which 1.1 million people saw. It was beaten only by a museum exhibit, the wildly popular Tutan-khamun, which pulled in 100,000 more visitors when it was shown in Philadelphia. This record is likely to be overtaken by the Tutankhamun show now at the O2 arena in London.