The National Gallery has committed one of the largest loans of all time to a UK regional gallery to celebrate a little-known, centuries-old special relationship.
The gallery is loaning nine works, including a Monet and a Gainsborough, to the Southampton City Art Gallery for an exhibition this summer that explores the close behind-the-scenes ties that the two galleries have always had.
Gabriele Finaldi, director of the Nationalgalerie, said the connections are unique and he is pleased that “the untold story of the historical relationship between our two institutions” can now be told.
The foundation stone for the Southampton Art Gallery was laid in 1911 in the will of local pharmacist Robert Chipperfield. He left the city his collection of Victorian paintings, some money to build a gallery, and ordered the director of the National Gallery to act as an advisor on matters such as acquisitions, loans, and exhibitions.
That meant collection policy for Southampton was developed by Kenneth Clark, who rose to fame with his television series Civilization but was the youngest director of the National Gallery in the 1930s and early 30s.
He said that works should be acquired that have intrinsic meaning and aesthetic value, and not just what is popular and readily available.
The gallery opened in April 1939, but was soon emptied due to the outbreak of war.
The Southampton exhibition will examine the collection policy that was decided through 1975 with advice from the National Gallery. Then when it began to buy more affordable contemporary British art, the Tate became a “national adviser”.
Over the past few decades, the close ties between the National Gallery and Southampton have continued in a variety of ways.
Almost 60 works are exhibited. Paintings on loan include Claude Monet’s The Petit Bras of the Seine at Argenteuil, 1872, which is paired with a Southampton-owned Monet, The Church Vétheuil, 1880.
The Gainsborough painting of the National by Dr. Ralph Schomberg, around 1770, is paired with a Southampton Gainsborough, George, Lord Vernon, 1767. Salvator Rosa’s troubling mid-17th century witches
Southampton hopes the show will be a stepping stone to winning the battle to be named British City of Culture in 2025.