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?
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager - Part Time

£16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital agency based in Ashford, Ke...

Recruitment Genius: Sales and Marketing Executive

£19000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Technical Author / Multimedia Writer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This recognized leader in providing software s...

Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent