Oldest public gallery appeals for help

ThE director of the Dulwich Picture Gallery, Britain's oldest public art museum, yesterday appealed to the Government to help prevent its closure. The gallery contains the nation's third most important store of Old Master paintings, after those in the Royal Collection and National Gallery.

Giles Waterfield's cry for help came as some 40 masterpieces by Canaletto, Van Dyck, Guido Reni, Guercino and Tiepolo from the Dulwich went on show at Christie's yesterday. The display is not a prelude to any auction - unless the worst comes to the worst for the cash-starved gallery.

Selling off a Van Dyck or a Raphael would be a last resort. However, such a sale would not be a first for the gallery: in 1971, there was an outcry over the 'de-accessioning' of Domenichino's Adoration of the Shepherds for pounds 100,000.

But, as Mr Waterfield pointed out, 'none of those who cried out actually forked out'. He said: 'We are not going to close tomorrow. But if, in a year's time, we have not found a solution, my trustees and I would be suffering from anxious nights.'

It is ironic that the survival of a collection worth several hundreds of millions depends on the gallery raising just pounds 200,000 a year, bringing up the total annual expenditure to pounds 600,000. It is a modest amount considering that Rembrandt's Girl Leaning on a Window-sill, the focus of an exhibition at the gallery next month, has been valued at pounds 40m.

Mr Waterfield was exploring two options - one of which was finding a single large-scale donor: 'In spite of the present problems we are very eager to develop the gallery further and to erect the extension that the gallery vitally needs, so we can offer a potential donor the opportunity to do more than bail us out.'

The second option is government funding. The gallery has approached senior officials at the Department of National Heritage.

The gallery was set up in 1811 in south-east London, but as its collection was never officially bequeathed to the nation, it is not eligible for state funds. Redefining its status is a possible solution.

Mr Waterfield said: 'We expect this arrangement will change this year, and that the ownership of the gallery and its collections will be vested in an independent body of trustees. They will have the power, subject to the approval of the Charity Commissioners, to share ownership with, or to transfer ownership completely to, a new sponsoring body. This situation offers us the possibility to set the gallery up permanently on a proper funding basis, something that it has never enjoyed in all the years of its history.'

However, a National Heritage spokesman said: 'Our responsibilities are limited to 16 national and non-national museums and galleries . . . We have no plans to extend that at the moment. But I'm sure if they were to approach the Secretary of State, he would be glad to arrange a meeting.'

Since 1811, the gallery has been closely associated with the Alleyn's College of God's Gift, known as the Dulwich College Foundation. The gallery's trustees have been the governors of Dulwich College. Whatever the change in status, the gallery will continue as a beneficiary. This year, it will receive pounds 140,000.

Many people will see the pictures at Christie's for the first time, purely because the journey to Dulwich is regarded as 'a trek'. Although the number of visitors has more than doubled over the past decade, the figure is only 40,000. Mr Waterfield said that the lack of funds meant that the gallery cannot afford to advertise. However, he added, the building - designed by Sir John Soane - is not large enough to take more than perhaps 80,000.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk