History of the National Gallery

The National Gallery began as a collection of 36 paintings.
These original paintings where bought by the British government from John Julius Angerstein in 1824. It has been added to by private collectors and been sponsored by private donations.

The resulting collection is smaller than other national galleries in Europe but it has a high concentration of important works across a variety of artistic scopes.

The present building is on the northern side of Trafalgar Square although it’s had two previous locations. The building was originally built in 1838 and has been altered and expanded throughout its history.

Great Britain was a late starter when it came to establishing a national art gallery for its public. It considered buying a collection by Sir Robert Walpole in 1777 but declined to do so. Renewed calls for art were made by James Barry and John Flaxman, who argued that a British school of painting could only work if it had access to the canon of European painting.

The British Institution attempted to address the situation in 1805 but the quality of works was considered to be low.

Later, in 1811, London was home to a collection intended for a never-realized national gallery of Poland when it was bequeathed in the will of one of the men who had made it.

The reluctant British government came in contact with the works owned by the recently departed John Julius Angerstein and purchased 38 of the art pieces. The National Gallery opened to the public in the spring of 1824, housed in the former townhouse Angerstein lived in.

The paintings were joined by those owned by Sir George Beaumont and those owned by Reverend William Howell Carr. The gallery was later moved to another site on Pall Mall that was equally small and cramped.

In 1832, construction began on a new building in Charing Cross, in an area that was transformed over the 1820s into Trafalgar Square.

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