Why I donated Chequers to the nation

Lord Lee, who donated Chequers and its collection to the nation, is depicted with his American wife Ruth in a painting by Philip de László entitled The Last Days at Chequers (right), which shows them in the Hawtrey Room. Painted in 1920, just two months before the couple finally left Chequers and Lloyd George moved in, it evokes the timeless quality

of the house.

Arthur Lee (1869-1947) had been a Conservative MP, and at the time of his departure from Chequers he was Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries. He gave the nation his 16th-century house and its contents, including a large collection of paintings, as a weekend retreat for the prime minister of the day. He explained in 1917 why he was making the gift: “To the

revolutionary statesman the antiquity and calm tenacity

of Chequers and its annals might suggest some saving virtues in the continuity of English history and exercise a check upon too hasty upheavals, whilst even the most reactionary could scarcely be insensible to the spirit of human freedom which permeated the countryside of Hampden, Burke and Milton. Apart from these more subtle influences, the better the health of our rulers the more sanely will they rule and the inducement to spend two days a week in the high and pure air of the Chiltern hills and woods will, it is hoped, benefit the nation as well as its chosen leaders.”

After Lord Lee donated Chequers and its contents, he began a second art collection. He later gave over 100

pictures for the Courtauld Institute, which he co-founded with Samuel Courtauld and Sir Robert Witt in 1932. Lord Lee also served as a trustee of the Wallace Collection and was chairman of the National Gallery

M.B.

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