10 May 1824

The National Gallery in London opens to the public for the first time.

The National Gallery is an art museum in Trafalgar Square in the City of Westminster, in Central London. Founded in 1824, it houses a collection of over 2,300 paintings dating from the mid-13th century to 1900.

The Gallery is an exempt charity, and a non-departmental public body of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. Its collection belongs to the government on behalf of the British public, and entry to the main collection is free of charge. It is among the most visited art museums in the world, after the Louvre, the British Museum, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Unlike comparable museums in continental Europe, the National Gallery was not formed by nationalising an existing royal or princely art collection. It came into being when the British government bought 38 paintings from the heirs of John Julius Angerstein, an insurance broker and patron of the arts, in 1824. After that initial purchase the Gallery was shaped mainly by its early directors, notably Sir Charles Lock Eastlake, and by private donations, which comprise two-thirds of the collection.

The resulting collection is small in size, compared with many European national galleries, but encyclopaedic in scope; most major developments in Western painting “from Giotto to Cézanne” are represented with important works. It used to be claimed that this was one of the few national galleries that had all its works on permanent exhibition, but this is no longer the case.

The present building, the third to house the National Gallery, was designed by William Wilkins from 1832 to 1838. Only the façade onto Trafalgar Square remains essentially unchanged from this time, as the building has been expanded piecemeal throughout its history. Wilkins’s building was often criticised for the perceived weaknesses of its design and for its lack of space; the latter problem led to the establishment of the Tate Gallery for British art in 1897.

The Sainsbury Wing, an extension to the west by Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, is a notable example of Postmodernist architecture in Britain. The current Director of the National Gallery is Gabriele Finaldi.

The Gallery was caught in controversy in 2018 over having some of the most expensive exhibition prices ever seen in London.

The National Gallery opened to the public on 10 May 1824, housed in Angerstein’s former townhouse at No. 100 Pall Mall. Angerstein’s paintings were joined in 1826 by those from Beaumont’s collection, and in 1831 by the Reverend William Holwell Carr’s bequest of 35 paintings. Initially the Keeper of Paintings, William Seguier, bore the burden of managing the Gallery, but in July 1824 some of this responsibility fell to the newly formed board of trustees.

The National Gallery at Pall Mall was frequently overcrowded and hot and its diminutive size in comparison with the Louvre in Paris was the cause of national embarrassment. But Agar Ellis, now a trustee of the Gallery, appraised the site for being “in the very gangway of London”; this was seen as necessary for the Gallery to fulfil its social purpose. Subsidence in No. 100 caused the Gallery to move briefly to No. 105 Pall Mall, which the novelist Anthony Trollope described as a “dingy, dull, narrow house, ill-adapted for the exhibition of the treasures it held”. This in turn had to be demolished for the opening of a road to Carlton House Terrace.

In 1832 construction began on a new building by William Wilkins on the site of the King’s Mews in Charing Cross, in an area that had been transformed over the 1820s into Trafalgar Square. The location was a significant one, between the wealthy West End and poorer areas to the east. The argument that the collection could be accessed by people of all social classes outstripped other concerns, such as the pollution of central London or the failings of Wilkins’s building, when the prospect of a move to South Kensington was mooted in the 1850s. According to the Parliamentary Commission of 1857, “The existence of the pictures is not the end purpose of the collection, but the means only to give the people an ennobling enjoyment”.

4 August 1824

Turkish and Greek forces fight in the Battle of Kos.

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The Battle of Kos was a brief battle between British, Italian and German forces for the control of the Greek island of Kos, in the then Italian-held Dodecanese islands in the Aegean Sea.

he capture of Kos would have disastrous consequences for British operations in the Dodecanese Islands. Deprived of air cover, the Allies were in the long run unable to hold the other islands, while the Germans pressed their advantage, capturing Leros a month later and completing their conquest of the Dodecanese by the end of November.

In the conclusion of the official despatch covering these operations, it is remarked that:

We failed because we were unable to establish airfields in the area of operations. The enemy’s command of the air enabled him so to limit the operations and impair the efficiency of land, sea and air forces that by picking his time he could deploy his comparatively small forces with decisive results. Had more aircraft been available, especially modern long-range fighters, and given more luck, the operations might have been prolonged, but after the loss of Kos, if the enemy were prepared to divert the necessary effort, it is doubtful if Leros could have been held indefinitely without our embarking on a major operation for which no forces were available.

A further consequence of the German occupation of Kos was the deportation of the small long established Jewish congregation to the European death camps. None of the Jews survived the war.