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National Art Collection (Public Offices)

Volume 499: debated on Tuesday 22 April 1952

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asked the Minister of Works whether he will form a national collection of works of art for display in public offices at home and in Government buildings overseas.

Yes, Sir. In recent years there has been a large increase in the number of buildings overseas where British prestige has to be maintained. My Ministry has made the best of very slender resources, but these are quite insufficient to do justice to British art in such buildings as Embassies, Consulates, High Commissioners' houses and Governors' residences.

I have, therefore, decided to form a collection of pictures and decorative objects to be placed in Government buildings here and abroad. I am inviting both gifts and loans in kind, and cash subscriptions for the purchase of works by dead and living artists. The pictures on loan will be carefully looked after and, in the unlikely event of damage, this will be made good.

This collection has made a good start. I should like especially to mention the loan of pictures made by my noble Friend Lord Wharton, and a loan of 112 pictures and drawings made by Sir Bruce Ingram. I would be grateful for any help which hon. Members can give to make this venture a success.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that this announcement will give great pleasure to many of those who have long felt that our works of art were inadequately shown in our Embassies, and will he convey our gratitude to the generous donors?

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in many galleries large numbers of pictures are stored away in cellars and that the galleries would be only too pleased for them to be used?

I think there is a general idea that far more pictures are stored away than is actually the case. I have made a very careful survey of the galleries and, within the limits of their obligations to donors and the limits of their statutes, they have lent very generously.

Will the right hon. Gentleman consider displaying in this way those works of art which the public are at present prevented from seeing by the Government's stupid decision to close down part of the Tate Gallery?

Will by right hon. Friend assure the House that this collection will not include the type of picture which even experts cannot tell if it is hung upside down or not?

When the right hon. Gentleman is considering the state of Government buildings abroad, will he devote a little attention to the state of the British Embassy in Moscow which is in an unbelievably shabby and dilapidated condition?

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House how much this will cost during the present financial year?