National Gallery Opens
The history of the National Gallery until 1838 was one of faltering steps towards a national institution. At various times in the late 18th century major collections offered to the nation were turned down as housing them would have cost money. Unlike several other major European countries, the royal collection here remained very much under royal control (as it still is) and away from the prying eyes of the mean and base.
In 1824, chance gave the government the opportunity to purchase several significant collections, and they were housed temporarily in a great but unsuitable house in London, 100 Pall Mall. But in 1831 William Wilkins had his plans for a permanent home for the gallery accepted, and on April 9 1838 the new building opened its grand doors, facing onto Trafalgar Square, to the public. The facade still remains as Wilkins designed it, though the rest has altered considerably, partly because the original was less than perfectly fit for purpose, and partly because of organic growth in the national collection since then.
It is to the credit of those who organised the construction of the building that it was located on such a spot, then at the edge of fashionable London so at the time offering relatively easy access to the poor of the capital. Today the gallery caters for nearly five million visitors a year, rich and poor alike.
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