The National Gallery has agreed one of its largest ever loans of work to a UK regional gallery, in order to celebrate a little-known century-old special relationship.
The gallery is lending nine works, including a Monet and a Gainsborough, to Southampton city art gallery for an exhibition this summer which will explore the close, behind-the-scenes links the two galleries have always had.
Gabriele Finaldi, director of the National Gallery, said the ties were unique ones and he was delighted “the untold story of the historical relationship between our two institutions” could now be told.
The foundations for Southampton art gallery were laid out in 1911 in the will of local pharmacist Robert Chipperfield. He left his collection of Victorian paintings to the city, some money to build a gallery and stipulated that the director of the National Gallery should act as an adviser on matters including acquisitions, loans and displays.
That meant the collections policy for Southampton was devised by Kenneth Clark, who went on to achieve fame for his TV series Civilisation but in the 1930s, and in his early 30s, was the National Gallery’s youngest ever director.
He said works should be acquired which had intrinsic significance and aesthetic merit and not just be what was popular and readily available.
The gallery opened in April 1939 but was soon emptied because of the outbreak of war.
The exhibition in Southampton will explore the collecting policy which, until 1975, was decided on with advice from the National Gallery. When it then began purchasing more affordable contemporary British art, the Tate became “national adviser”.
In recent decades the close ties between the National Gallery and Southampton have continued in a variety of ways.
Nearly 60 works will be on display. The paintings being loaned include Claude Monet’s The Petit Bras of the Seine at Argenteuil, 1872which will be paired with a Southampton-owned Monet, The Church Vétheuil, 1880.
The National’s Gainsborough painting of Dr Ralph Schomberg, about 1770, will be paired with a Southampton Gainsborough, George, Lord Vernon, 1767. Salvator Rosa’s disturbing mid-17th century Witches at their Incantations will be paired with a Southampton Rosa, A Mountain Landscape.
Southampton hopes the show will be a stepping stone towards winning the battle to be named UK city of culture in 2025.