§ House went into a Committee of Supply.
§ Mr. Spring Rice
said, that for the first vote for which he had to move, the Committee had been prepared by the previous discussions upon the subject. He intended 644 to move for a grant of 15,000l. as the first instalment towards the expense of building a National Gallery. This vote had not been originally included in the annual estimates; but so great a desire had been expressed on all sides, that such a vote should be submitted, that Ministers, after certain preliminary inquiries, had directed the estimate should be made of the expense of the building, The Commission of Inquiry had recommended that it should be erected partly of brick, and partly of stone; but, when it was found that the building it entirely of stone would add only 3,000l. to the expense, it was determined to erect it entirely of that material. He conceived that such a structure ought to be expressive of the progress which architecture had made in this country, and it ought to correspond with the general encouragement that had been given to the arts. The Government would receive in exchange the rooms at present occupied by the Royal Academy in Somerset-place, and they could be most advantageously converted into public offices. The 50,000l. for which Government meant, on the whole, to ask, would likewise include the expense of a place of deposit for the public records, and the whole sum would be spread over a period of three years, which was the shortest term in which it could be built with propriety, The present vote was for 15,000l.
Sir Robert Peel
felt the greatest satisfaction in declaring that the vote in every respect met with his most cordial approbation. It had been prepared, most properly by his Majesty's Ministers, in deference to the unanimous sense which had been expressed by the House when the subject had been discussed. After his Majesty's Ministers had ascertained what were the strong and general sentiments upon the subject of encouraging the fine arts, in this country, they had taken the course best adapted to accomplish that most desirable object. He was happy to say, that they had entirely divested the question of all party feeling, and had consulted every class of persons most likely to promote the object in view. He conceived, that it would be very false and pernicious economy that prevented such a building being ornamental, and, of the whole sum demanded, 10,000l. might be considered as spent for the security of the public records. It was impossible to reflect upon how the public records had been treated, without admitting the necessity of providing for their security; and no detached building could be erected for that purpose for anything like the sum 645 of 10,000l. With reference to the Royal Academy, the value of the rooms which they would give up to the public upon receiving this accommodation would be at least 30,000l., or 2,000l. a-year; and the public would also gain very much in obtaining these rooms, as they would contribute greatly to the convenience of the Government business. When all these points were considered, together with the saving for the rooms which now contained his Majesty's pictures, he could not but say that in providing a National Gallery for 50,000l. Ministers had made an arrangement most favourable and advantageous to the public. When he considered how great and important was the object of having a place in which to exhibit the works of the ancient masters, and the productions of modern artists, he could not but feel that both the Parliament and his Majesty's Ministers did themselves honour by voting this sum. In the present times of political excitement, the exacerbation of angry and unsocial feelings might be much softened by the effects which the fine arts had ever produced upon the minds of men. Of all expenditure, that like the present, was the most adequate to confer advantage on those classes which had but little leisure to enjoy the most refined species of pleasure. The rich might have their own pictures, but those who had to obtain their bread by their labour, could not hope for such an enjoyment. With respect to the situation of the building, it was as well selected as possible, close to Charing Cross, where, as Dr. Johnson said, "the great tide of human existence is fullest in its stream;" and, consequently, where all classes of the community would be equally accommodated. He therefore, trusted that the erection of the edifice would not only contribute to the cultivation of the arts, but also to the cementing of those bonds of union between the richer and the poorer orders of the State, which no man was more anxious to see joined in mutual intercourse and good understanding than he was.
§ Mr. Ridley Colborne
supported the vote most cordially. As soon as the building was complete, he was convinced that valuable works of art would be contributed to it from all quarters, and which had hitherto been withheld merely because there had not been any place to put them in, appropriated by the country. He wished once more to advert to the subject of the celebrated obelisk, called Cleopatra's Needle. He understood that there might be some 646 difficulty in bringing it over to this country; but Ali Pacha had offered for the same sum of money an obelisk equally beautiful, which was now at Grand Cairo. He wished to know what were the intentions of Ministers upon the subject?
§ Lord Althorp
said, that he had been, at first, unwilling to incur the expense of erecting a new building for the purposes of the present grant. But the sense of the House had been so strongly expressed upon the subject, that he thought the Ministers would not have done their duty if they did not apply for the grant. In reply to the question of the hon. Member, he had to say, that the obelisk referred to was in such a state of decay, that it would not be worth the expense of removing it to England; nor did he think that, if a suitable place for its erection could be found, it would be any great ornament to the metropolis.
concurred in what had been said by the right hon. Baronet (Sir Robert Peel) respecting the propriety of the grant; but he thought that all the public records of this country ought to be brought together in one place, and that a separate building should be appropriated to their preservation. He would suggest, that accommodation should be provided for the Royal Society, as well as for the Royal Academy, in the same building with the new National Gallery. By such an arrangement, the Government would be enabled to remove to Somerset House those public offices which were at present held elsewhere; and he was sure that the value of the rooms, at present occupied by the societies, would, when applied to public purposes, go near to cover the expense of the new building. He trusted that, in providing accommodation at the public expense for the Royal Academy, the Government would take care that the bye-laws of that institution should undergo such a revision as would render the Academy really useful to the advancement of the fine arts in England, He had heard complaints from several artists, that, in many respects, the institution was managed more with a view to promote individual interests than for public purposes. Before he sat down, he would express a hope that the estimates would undergo a careful examination before the building was commenced, and that no deviation from the contract would be allowed.
§ Colonel Sibthorp
hoped, that he should hear no more of such nonsense, as the paying of 10,000l. for Cleopatra's Needle. He hoped that the new building and the public records 647 would be accessible to the public, without such extortion of fees, as people were subjected to in visiting Westminster Abbey, or St. Paul's, or any other public building in this metropolis.
Sir Robert Inglis
, in expressing his approbation of the grant, took occasion to complain of the disgraceful state in which Westminster Hall was suffered to remain. He contended that there were no just grounds of complaint against the members of the Royal Academy. He did not think that the present grant would be found sufficient for the completion of the projected building.
§ Mr. Spring Rice
said, that great care had been taken to make the estimate rather beyond than within what it was anticipated would be required. The sum of 50,000l. comprised every charge of any consequence. The hon. member for Middlesex might rest assured, that his Majesty's Government would not proceed one step in the undertaking until every possible care had been taken to ascertain that every charge was included.
hoped that the site for the National Gallery would be so chosen as to leave ample room for pictures which might be contributed to the Gallery by the nobility and others, because it must be well known, that repeated donations, and those of a most munificent description, had already been made. He understood that the area near the proposed site was occupied by barracks; but he hoped that, if, at a future time, it should be requisite to enlarge the room for pictures, the barracks would be made to give way to the wants of a National Gallery. As to making a separate building with a view to the safe keeping of records, he would only state that the charter by which a title to a large portion of North America was established, had been recently found, by accident, in some dark corner of the present office.
§ Mr. Robert A. Dundas
hoped, that in theerection of a National Gallery, care would be taken to provide room for the exhibition of statues; as at present there were great difficulties in the way of youthful sculptors, from the want of some place where they might have ready access to the best works of art, as well as from the want of a place, where they might exhibit their own productions. In reference to the Royal Academy at Somerset House, he must say, that he saw no reason why their bye-laws should not be laid before the House, for he had known instances in 648 which persons possessing the greatest ability had not been able to obtain the rank of Royal Academician.
§ Sir Matthew White Ridley
observed, that statues required to be so placed, that the shadows should fall upon them in a particular way, so that a difficulty would always exist on this head. In reference to the Royal Academy, he was aware that a strong feeling existed against that institution, from an idea that the Academicians did not act fairly; but he was quite sure that, looking to their proceedings, every one must allow that vacancies were filled up, in all cases, by men of superior and acknowledged talent. Having had conversations with many artists, he would say that those who had the task assigned them of receiving pictures, or hanging them, had to fill an office to which much odium attached. Again, for want of room, the Academy were obliged annually to return many hundred pictures sent for exhibition.
§ Mr. George Bankes
condemned the idea of removing Cleopatra's Needle, and other ancient relics. He would, for instance, much rather that the temple of Sesostris remained in its present situation.
§ The Vote agreed to.