Letter: Museum charges

Sir: In all the recent publicity about the threatened introduction of entry charges to national museums and galleries, almost no mention has been made of the abortive attempt to impose charges in the early 1970s.

Entry to the National Gallery was set modestly at pounds 1, yet attendance dropped by almost three-quarters. The revenue raised actually failed to cover the cost of collecting the charge. Even the Treasury realised that a serious blunder had been made, and the entry fee was hastily withdrawn.

One factor that became clear at that time was that overseas visitors were not disturbed by paying, but that in this country there is a well- known distrust of the visual arts which promotes the feeling that museums, as distinct from galleries, provide an "educational" dimension that makes them morally worthier of support. Galleries were the tragic victims of this double-edged onslaught.


London NW6

The writer was Keeper of the National Gallery, 1978-88.