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Royal Academy Of Arts (Sale Of Works Of Art)

Volume 656: debated on Wednesday 28 March 1962

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3.31 p.m.

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to prohibit the sale of all Works of art owned by the Royal Academy of Arts.
I do not propose to say anything about the merits of the Leonardo da Vinci cartoon, or about the appeal that has been launched to buy it for the nation, but I would like to question the propriety of the Royal Academy and its moral right to offer it for sale. I would have thought that the Royal Academy had no right to offer for sale any of the works of art in its trust for the nation. It seems to me that, although it may have a legal right to do so, it has no moral right.

The records of the Royal Academy on the Leonardo da Vinci cartoon are extraordinarily inadequate. Its first record of the cartoon is when it was framed in 1791. However, there is a sketch showing it hanging on the walls of the Royal Academy in 1779, which is only eleven years after the Royal Academy was first created. There is no certainty as to how the Royal Academy came into possession of the cartoon. The traditional belief is that it was a gift of Sir Joshua Reynolds, the first president. He may have given it to the Royal Academy, partly to cover one of the vacant walls in the early days and partly because he thought that it was a safe place in which to place this work of art so that those interested in the arts could see it.

The important point is that there was no National Gallery in existence at that time, and my submission is that, had it been in existence, the cartoon would undoubtedly have been placed in its charge so that the nation could look after it properly and so that it could be seen by those interested in the arts. Certainly, I do not think that any donor would have given it to the Royal Academy if he had believed that, at a subsequent date, the Royal Academy would offer it for sale.

It is of some importance that the Royal Academy has in its trust quite a large number of other works of art of some significance. There are a Michelangelo marble relief, some fine Constables, and various diploma works which Academicians have submitted as specimens of their work when they were made Academicians. Some of these various works which are in the care of the Royal Academy have some historical value. Perhaps twenty or thirty may be good pictures in themselves. I do not think that any of them were given to the Royal Academy by people who believed that they might be sold at some subsequent date. They were given so that they could be seen by students and others interested in the arts.

I was interested to see a letter in The Times from a rather naïve gentleman living in New York, who described the Royal Academy as an ordinary club and asked why it should not do what it liked with its own. The fact is that it is not just an ordinary club. It was set up under Royal patronage and with Royal assistance to encourage the arts. It has done, and is doing, useful work.

Most people would agree that the summer exhibitions and the assistance which it thus gives to artists in selling their pictures without commission is a worth-while job. Especially worth while are the winter exhibitions. But most of those who know the work of the Royal Academy consider that all of it is not of equal value.

It offers free art education for 100 students. I am certain that this side of its work was very valuable in the early days, but in recent years there have grown up all over the country a very large number of schools of art. The number of distinguished artists who have been trained in recent years by the Royal Academy School of Art is not as great as in the early days, and that is significant. I suggest, therefore, that this side of its work is much less important now than it was.

We are told that the Royal Academy has not the money to meet its needs at present, but wishes, at the same time, to remain independent. But is it to be the case that, whenever finance is short, the Royal Acadamy, in order to meet its deficits and find the money for what it wishes to do, does so by selling off not only this Leonardo da Vinci cartoon but all the other works of art in its trust? Are we to see another appeal, in a few years' time, for someone to buy the Michelangelo relief when the £800,000 which the Royal Academy hopes to get from the Leonardo da Vinci sale has been spent? Are the Constables to be sold later? Possibly even Burlington House itself might be sold. It occupies a very valuable site and a great deal of money could be obtained for it.

Ninety-nine years ago, at the instance of this House, a Royal Commission was set up to examine the affairs of the Royal Academy. It was a very speedy commission, for it was appointed in February and reported in July—which must be a record. The terms of reference instructed it to inquire
"… into the present position of the Royal Academy and to suggest such measures as may render it more useful in promoting the arts."
I suggest that another Royal Commission might well be set up now to do just the same job. The Royal Commission had useful results. One of the things that followed from it was that the Royal Academy moved from the National Gallery, where it had a lease, into property of its own. Most of the other minor suggestions were also carried out.

There is a strong case for investigating the activities and finances of the Royal Academy. It does not publish its accounts. There is a strong case, especially at a time when an appeal is being launched to find £800,000, for our at least knowing how the Royal Academy spends its money and for hearing about how the £800,000 is to be spent, if it is obtained. After all, the public is to find the money, even if not through taxation. The nation, therefore, has a right to have information about the activities of the Royal Academy—more information than is given at present about how its money is spent.

The Royal Academy is very squeamish about direct public help, but is not so squeamish about getting it indirectly. Our experience in recent years shows that there is no real danger in this country of State interference in the arts. We have created a very happy arrangement here which is much admired in the United States and many other countries. By that arrangement, we give assistance in various directions without Government interference. We have, for instance, the University Grants Committee and the Arts Council.

Some hon. Members were complaining the other day that the Arts Council was rather too independent. But our solution, by which the Government of the day does not interfere with the way in which these bodies carry on their activities, deciding only how much money they are to receive, is a satisfactory way of giving assistance, however.

There is, therefore, a case for saying that we want to know rather more about how the Royal Academy carries out its affairs and how it spends its money. Until we have had some kind of report on its activities, we should not permit it to sell any more of the works of art in its charge. I repeat that they are in its charge on behalf of the nation, and are not there to be disposed of whenever the Royal Academy is in financial difficulty. We should not permit the Royal Academy to sell any of its works of art until we have further information and have had some kind of commission of inquiry.

I hope that the House will give me leave to introduce my Bill.

3.40 p.m.

I oppose the Motion. I appreciate the arguments which the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) has advanced, but I do not believe that it is right that this House should interfere in the private affairs of an academy or association of this sort.

The Royal Academy is a private institution. It was founded in 1768, mainly at the instigation of Sir William Chambers. At the start, it received Royal patronage. George III offered to make good any "deficiencies" in the initial stages of getting the Academy going, and I believe that up to 1780, when the "deficiencies" ceased, £5,000 had been extended from the Royal purse—an act of Royal extravagance that was not, I am happy to say, attacked by the Press barons of the day.

The Royal Academy, therefore, has been entirely independent for 182 years, and during those years it has done very valuable work indeed. It has provided free education for students in all branches of art, and has provided exhibitions of all those forms of art in this country. It has also done much to organise lectures and exhibitions of all kinds, and I am sure that the whole country would acknowledge that its activities are very worth while.

The great thing is that here we have a private and voluntary organisation which has said publicly that it does not want to approach this House for public money. It does not want any subsidy, but wishes to maintain its independence from this House and the State. What a worthy and admirable principle that is. How nice it would be if more organisations adopted that attitude. I might add that I commend that attitude to the citizens of Orpington as well.

Parliament has no right whatsoever to interfere with the affairs of the Royal Academy, although it has attempted to do so on several occasions. In 1839, Parliament tried to control the accounts and to get the Royal Academy to publish a report on its activities. The Motion was carried at a late night sitting, but was reversed during the following morning, when that attempt was defeated by 38 votes to 33. I only hope that we have a bigger majority in killing the hon. Member's proposed Bill this afternoon.

I believe that there is no precedent for this House to interfere in the Academy's affairs. Further, I believe that it would be an intolerable infringement of the Liberty of private organisations should this House attempt to do so. Indeed, if the Bill were to reach the Statute Book I should not be surprised if it became known as the "Nosey Parker" Bill.

In addition, the principle behind the Bill is one of discrimination against one particular association, at the expense of one association, for the national good, and that is another principle to which I take objection. The Royal Academy maintains its affairs very well. It does not come to the House for public money, it is unsubsidised, and it is a thoroughly worthy institution. We have no right to interfere with its affairs, or to say whether or not it shall sell or otherwise dispose of its possessions.

The hon. Member is right to be concerned about the future of the Leonardo da Vinci cartoon, but under its present rules the Academy has every right to sell. Further, if it is short of money I think that the Academy has taken the correct decision. Of the works of art it now owns—and the hon. Gentleman referred to them—there are about 40 oil paintings and 18 pieces of sculpture. All but three or four of the works are directly connected with the Royal Academy and with past Academicians. There are also these three or four works of art of great international value, of which one is the Leonardo da Vinci cartoon, which are in no sense connected with this country, the Royal Academy, or any part of our history.

The National Gallery is, of course, the correct place for these works, and no doubt had it been in existence when the Royal Academy was set up that is where they would have gone, but the National Gallery was not built until 1824—about fifty years later—so that there was no other repository for national works of art of this kind. That is probably how they found their way to the Royal Academy.

While the cartoon remains with the Royal Academy, the Academy's students, art students elsewhere in the country, members of the public and visitors from abroad cannot necessarily see it, whereas if it were in the National Gallery everyone could see it. It is surely more desirable that it should be in such a place as the National Gallery, where all can see it, rather than in a private institution which might not exhibit it all the time.

Division No. 136.]


[3.59 p.m.

Abse, LeoHarper, J.Mitchison, G. R.
Ainsley, WilliamHart, Mrs. JudithMoody, A. S.
Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)Healey, DenisNicholson, Sir Godfrey
Awbery, StanHenderson, Rt. Hn. Arthur (Rwly Regis)Noel-Baker, Rt. Hn. Philip (Derby, S.)
Bowles, FrankHolman, PercyOliver, G. H.
Brockway, A. FennerHughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey)Proctor, W. T.
Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.)Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)Rankin, John
Castle, Mrs. BarbaraHunter, A. E.Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)
Cliffe, MichaelHynd, H. (Accrington)Silverman, Julius (Aston)
Cullen, Mrs. AliceJanner, Sir BarnettSilverman, Sydney (Nelson)
Davies, Harold (Leek)Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham)Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.)
Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)Jones, T. W. (Merloneth)Spriggs, Leslie
Deer, GeorgeKenyon, CliffordStewart, Michael (Fulham)
Digby, Simon WingfieldKey, Rt. Hon. C. W.Swingler, Stephen
Ede, Rt. Hon. C.Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock)Symonds, J. B.
Edwards, Rt. Hon. Ness (Caerphilly)Lewis, Arthur (West Ham, N.)Taylor, Edwin (Bolton, E.)
Edwards, Robert (Bilston)Lipton, MarcusThomas, George (Cardiff, W.)
Fernyhougth, E.Loughlin, CharlesThompson, Dr. Alan (Dunfermline)
Finch, HaroldMabon, Dr. J. DicksonWarbey, William
Foot, Dingle (Ipswich)McInnes, JamesWells, Percy (Faversham)
Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale)Mackie, John (Enfield, East)Wigg, George
Forman, J. C.McLeavy, FrankWilkins, W. A.
George, Lady Megan Lloyd (Crmrthn)MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)Williams, W. R. (Openshaw)
Gooch, E. C.Mallalleu, E. L. (Brlgg)Worsley, Marcus
Gourlay, HarryManuel, ArchieYates, Victor (Ladywood)
Greenwood, AnthonyMason, Roy
Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly)Mellish, R. J.TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Hannan, WilliamMilne, EdwardMr. Parker and Mr. Jeger.

It is particularly unfortunate that the proposed Bill should be brought in at a time when we know that the Leonardo da Vinci is not to be sold at auction if the necessary sum of money can be raised by subscription. With some generosity, I think, the Academy has agreed to let the picture go for £800,000 when it might well have obtained more at private auction. That gives our people an opportunity to show, by their subscriptions, that they want the picture to stay here. Equally, if the hon. Member for Dagenham wishes the picture to stay in this country, he has his opportunity to subscribe towards that end. I hope that there will be a generous response to the fund, and that the requisite amount of money will be obtained from private subscribers without any public money going towards it at all.

I believe that, in the long run, the country will get the works of art for which it is prepared to pay, and that it is totally wrong to take a discriminatory short cut by means of a piece of bad legislation like this. I recommend the House not to give the hon. Member leave to bring in his Bill.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 12 ( Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of Public Business):—

The House divided: Ayes 81, Noes 157.


Agnew, Sir PeterGlyn, Sir Richard (Dorset, N.)Noble, Michael
Altken, w. T.Goodhart, PhilipNugent, Rt. Hon. Sir Richard
Ashton, Sir HubertGoodhew, VictorOakshott, Sir Hendrie
Balniel, LordGower, RaymondOsborn, John (Hallam)
Barlow, Sir JohnGrant-Ferris, Wg. Cdr. R.Osborne, Sir Cyril (Louth)
Batsford, BrianGresham Cooke, R.Pannell, Norman (Kirkdale)
Baxter, Sir Beverley (Southgate)Grosvenor, Lt.-Col. R. C.Pearson, Frank (Clitheroe)
Bell, RonaldHale, Leslie (Oldham, W.)Peel, John
Bennett, F. M. (Torquay)Hall, John (Wycombe)Peyton, John
Berkeley, HumphryHamilton, Michael (Wellingborough)Pitt, Miss Edith
Bidgood, John C.Harvie Anderson, MissPowell, Rt. Hon. J. Enoch
Biffen, JohnHastings, StephenPrice, J. T. (Westhoughton)
Biggs-Davison, JohnHeald, Rt. Hon. Sir LionelProudfoot, Wilfred
Bossom, CliveHicks Beach, Maj. W.Pym, Francis
Box, DonaldHill, Mrs. Eveline (Wythenshawe)Redmayne, Rt. Hon. Martin
Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hon. J.Hill, J. E. B. (S. Norfolk)Renton, David
Bromley-Davenport, Lt. -Col. Sir WalterHirst, GeoffreyRhodes, H.
Brooman-White, R.Hobson, Sir JohnRidsdale, Julian
Brown, Alan (Tottenham)Holt, ArthurRoberts, Sir Peter (Heeley)
Browne, Percy (Torrington)Howard, John (Southampton, Test)Robinson, Rt. Hn. Sir R. (B'pool, S.)
Buck, AntonyHughes-Young, MichaelRussell, Ronald
Bullard, DenysIrvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)Sharples, Richard
Butcher, Sir HerbertJames, DavidShaw, M.
Campbell, Sir David (Belfast, S.)Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich)Skeet, T. H. H.
Campbell, Cordon (Moray & Nairn)Jennings, J. C.Smyth, Brig. Sir John (Norwood)
Cary, Sir RobertJohnson, Eric (Blackley)Spearman, Sir Alexander
Channon, H. P. G.Johnson Smith, GeoffreyStanley, Hon. Richard
Chataway, ChristopherKaberry, Sir DonaldStudholme, Sir Henry
Chichester-Clark, R.Kerr, Sir HamiltonTalbot, John E.
Clark, William (Nottingham, S.)Kershaw, AnthonyTemple, John M.
Cleaver, LeonardKimball, MarcusThatcher, Mrs. Margaret
Cooper, A. E.Lagden, GodfreyThornton-Kemsley, Sir Colin
Cordle, JohnLancaster, Col. C. G.Tilney John (Wavertree)
Costain, A. P.Leavey, J. A.Touche, Rt. Hon. Sir Gordon
Crowder, F. P.Leburn, GilmourTurner, Colin
Cunningham, KnoxLegge-Bourke, Sir HarryTurton, Rt. Hon. R. H.
Curran, CharlesLewis, Kenneth (Rutland)
Dalkeith, Earl ofLilley, F. J. P.Vaughan-Morgan, Rt. Hon. Sir John
Dance, JamesLindsay, Sir MartinWade, Donald
d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir HenryLitchfield, Capt. JohnWalker, Peter
Duncan, Sir JamesLucas-Tooth, Sir HughWall, Patrick
Eden, JohnMcLaren, MartinWard, Dame Irene
Elliott, R. W. (Nwctle-upon-Tyne, N.)Maitland, Sir JohnWebster, David
Emmet, Hon. Mrs. EvelynManningham-Buller, Rt. Hn. Sir R.Wells, John (Maldstone)
Errington, Sir EricMarlowe, AnthonyWills, Sir Gerald (Bridgwater)
Farey-Jonee, F. W.Marples, Rt. Hon. ErnestWilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Finlay, GraemeMarshall, DouglasWise, A. R.
Fletcher-Cooke, CharlesMatthews, Gordon (Meriden)Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick
Freeth, DenzilMaxwell-Hyslop, R. J.Woodhouse, C. M.
Gammans, LadyMontgomery, FergusWoodnutt, Mark
George, J. C. (Pollok)Morgan, William
Gilmour, Sir JohnMorrison, JohnTELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Glover, Sir DouglasMott-Radclyffe, Sir CharlesMr. Ridley and Mr. More.
Glyn, Dr. Alan (Clapham)Nabarro, Gerald