Art for the Nation: Acquisitions Made by Sir Charles Eastlake at the National Gallery, London

artwork: Giovanni Bellini - "Madonna of the Meadow", about 1500 - Oil and egg on synthetic panel, transferred from wood, 67.3 x 86.4 cm. The National Gallery, London.

This summer, the history of the National Gallery comes alive in Room 1. Art for the Nation introduces the first Director of the Gallery: Sir Charles Lock Eastlake (1793–1865), a man described by one contemporary as the ‘Alpha and Omega’ of the Victorian art world. The exhibition shows a handful of Eastlake’s purchases of Italian Renaissance art and also demonstrates, using little-known items from the Gallery’s archive and library, the extent to which Eastlake labored behind the scenes for the National Gallery. On 27 March 1855, aged 62, Eastlake was appointed Director of the National Gallery. In his capacity as Keeper (between 1843 and 1847) and then a Trustee (from 1850) he had become acutely aware of the Gallery’s shortcomings. Using his executive powers he set about developing coherent policies on acquisition and display at the Gallery. From this point, he abandoned his career as a painter.