Council's Pre-Raphaelite collection saved for public display

London's Hammersmith & Fulham was considering selling the works


A collection of 53 pictures by Burne-Jones and his contemporaries is to go on show at Fulham Palace, ending speculation that it might be sold. The works were bequeathed by amateur artist Cecil French to London’s Fulham council (now Hammersmith & Fulham) in 1953. Since 1983 several paintings have been on display at Leighton House in Kensington, with the majority kept in store.

The Fulham collection comprises late 19th- and early 20th-century British works, including paintings by Burne-Jones, Watts, Waterhouse, Leighton, Moore and Alma-Tadema, as well as many watercolours and drawings. Further bequests by Cecil French were given to other institutions, including the Watts Gallery in Surrey, which deaccessioned two of his pictures on 5 June. Moore’s Jasmine and Burne-Jones’s Triumph of Love were sold at Christie’s, London, for £2.8m, twice the upper estimate. The proceeds will be used to help restore the Watts Gallery building.

Hammersmith & Fulham mayor Minnie Scott Russell told The Art Newspaper at the end of May (just before stepping down as mayor) that the future of the Cecil French bequest was under consideration. She said that many residents would like to see the works sold, to raise money for other projects, such as contemporary public art and bursaries for young artists. A sale might have brought in millions of pounds, with Waterhouse’s Mariana in the South and Burne-Jones’s Cupid Delivering Psyche being particularly important.

However, on 17 June Hammersmith & Fulham Council announced that the Cecil French bequest would go on permanent display at Fulham Palace, the former Bishop of London’s summer residence, which is now leased to the council and open to visitors. The council is currently applying to the Heritage Lottery Fund for a grant to restore Fulham Palace and its grounds.

Last month a council spokesperson denied that there had been any consideration of selling off the bequest: “It was always our intention to return the collection to the borough.” A temporary one-week display of the Cecil French pictures was held at Fulham Palace from 28 May to 1 June (the first time that the bequest has been seen in its entirety), and they will now return to public view later this year.