In defence of Tate: Gainsborough acquisitions

Tate Director Nicholas Serota comments on recent criticism


We were very surprised by Hugh Belsey’s accusation, made for the first time, that Tate acted improperly in the acquisition in 1984 and 1993 of the two Gainsborough works, the portrait of the Reverend Chafy and the Muilman group portrait (The Art Newspaper, No.131, December 2002, p.18).

In the case of the Chafy portrait, Tate made known its interest in the work at an early date, and confirmation of the NACF’s support for Tate, received by the end of May 1984, made possible the successful bid at auction in July. The gallery did not step in “three days before the sale”.

On the Muilman group, the suggestion of a joint purchase arose in friendly correspondence between the two institutions two months before the sale. The joint ownership has worked well for both institutions and, in practice, the painting has spent rather longer in Suffolk than in London.

The purchase of the work by Gainsborough’s House and Tate was an important precedent and Tate has since made joint acquisitions with two other British galleries. Tate prides itself on its good relationships with regional galleries and has maintained close relations with Gainsborough’s House since 1993, lending many important works and promoting the House in connection with Tate Britain's current Gainsborough exhibition. Our further commitment to regional galleries is exemplified by the pioneering Tate Partnership Scheme, in which key works from the Tate Collection form exhibitions at five regional galleries across the UK.

Nicholas Serota

Director, Tate

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Tate is no Goliath Nicholas Serota'