British art swaps at the Tate Gallery and Victoria and Albert Museum

Constables go to Tate and eighteenth-century works to V&A



The Tate Gallery and the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) have agreed to exchange dozens of works of art. In an unusual joint statement, their two sets of trustees announced that their holdings of British art “will be regarded as a single resource, equally available to both institutions for display, with loans of up to five years”. This could have far-reaching implications for cooperative links between the national art museums in London.

The main reason for the swap is that two new projects are coming to fruition: the relaunch of the Tate Gallery of British Art at Millbank and the V&A’s new British Galleries. Up to twenty paintings by Constable will move from the V&A to the Tate, to enhance displays in the three rooms which will be devoted to the artist at Millbank. The Constable Galleries, opening in 2001, are being funded by the Wolfson Foundation and the Heritage Lottery Fund. Director of the Tate Gallery of British Art, Stephen Deuchar, said that these rooms should “give Constable a similar prominence to Turner”, who has his own wing at Millbank. Constable pictures going to the Tate include the oil sketch for “The leaping horse”, “Cottage in a cornfield” and “Weymouth Bay”. Other works being sent from the V&A to Millbank are miniatures such as Hilliard’s “Man aged twenty-four” and sculptures such as “Thetis dipping Achilles” by Banks and the bust of Sir George Saville by Nollekens. In return, the V&A will receive works for its new British Galleries, due to open in November 2001. Hogarth’s “Strode family” will be used in a display on the eighteenth century; Dobson’s “Portrait of an officer” will illustrate the Grand Tour; Stubbs’s enamel “Portrait of a young gentlemen” will demonstrate Wedgwood’s involvement in the visual arts and Whistler’s “Nocturne in blue and silver” will show the influence of Japan. Other pictures going to the V&A include Lely’s “Margaret Hughes”, Mercier’s “Schutz family” and Reynolds’s portrait of Susanna Beckford.

Non-British works will also be exchanged, although no details were given. This will enable “the fine arts and the decorative arts to be seen in appropriate contexts.” Although the loan exchange grabbed the headlines, another aspect of the statement by the Tate and V&A trustees could have important implications. The trustees decided that “the possibility of joint exhibitions will be explored and, where possible, curatorial expertise will be shared.” The swap follows an arrangement made between the Tate Gallery and the National Gallery in September 1996, when the two institutions agreed that 1900 should represent the dividing line between their collections and sixty-four works were exchanged on long-term loan. Two years ago National Gallery director Neil MacGregor called for more cooperation between London’s galleries, pointing out that Constable’s work is currently divided between the V&A, the Tate, the British Museum and the National Gallery (The Art Newspaper, No.79, March 1998, p. 22).

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as ‘British art swaps'