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Tate considers National Gallery’s proposal to show early 20th-century art

Trustees discuss idea following our report

Following The Art Newspaper’s revelations that the National Gallery (NG) is considering the display of some early 20th-century art, the Tate’s trustees are examining the proposal, although with little enthusiasm. The issue was discussed by the Tate board on 16 November, as a result of our report two weeks earlier (November 2005, pp.1, 7).

NG director Charles Saumarez Smith had said there is “a possible illogicality in treating 1900 as the terminal date” for a collection which aims to tell the narrative of Western European art. With the prospect of more display space becoming available on the lower floor, he is considering whether some early 20th-century paintings might be shown. At present 1900 is the divide between the NG and the Tate for international art and any change in the arrangements would need the approval of both galleries.

Tate director Sir Nicholas Serota told his trustees that the 1997 agreement on the division between the two collections had resulted in 50 paintings going on long-term loan to the NG, with 14 coming to Tate in return. Despite this imbalance, he said that “in the long term Tate knew where it stood and could go ahead and collect confidently”.

Furthermore, under the Museums and Galleries Act 1992, Tate is charged with the responsibility “to maintain...a collection of 20th-century and contemporary works of art”, as well as British art. If it relinquished works from the early years of the century to the NG, then it might be regarded as failing in its duties.

Last month a Tate spokesperson told us that its trustees had met with those of the NG late last year, as they do annually. On the 1900 divide, it was agreed that time should be allowed “to discuss this properly before anything more is said, as it requires careful consideration”.