Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Unwind and unfold

Research is so often a tumble down a rabbit hole, an exploration of an intricate network beneath what we take for granted today--so much of it forgotten, but so much of it easily explored if you stumble into the right warren

I was reminded again how much history underlies The Stowaway when I researched what Captain Hook and Vivian Drew would find during a trip to London in 1908. To my joy, I found an actual floor plan of the National Gallery from 1907 (both online and for sale from is going to be a lovely, geeky little bit of art framed on my wall.)

From a 1907 Karl Baedecker handbook
for travelers to London.

View of Trafalgar Square from 1908 also had this page from architectural publication The Builder from 1897, which I thought would be an interesting comparison. Which it certainly was--when I took a close look at it, I realized it was from another museum altogether. So why is it labeled "National Gallery"?

Tate Britain, aerial  view

As it turns out, because it's a schematic of the building that is now the Tate Britain. Henry Tate offered his collection of art to England in 1889, and it was housed in a building called "The National Gallery for British Art" when it opened in 1897. (This will become clearer in a minute.) Redubbed "National Gallery, Millbank" in 1920, and officially renamed "Tate Britain" in 1932, the museum has has had seven building extensions since 1897, and now comprises far more than its original eight rooms.

The building we know as the National Gallery today opened in Trafalgar Square in 1834, on the former site of the King's Mews, a site chosen to be central to all of London. It was the third building to hold the art collection, and (aha!) what is now Tate Britain was in fact built to address complaints that it was too small. The current National Gallery has also been expanded several times: in 1869, when its famous dome was added, and in 1907, when barracks at the back of the building (originally the King's Mews) were cleared to create five new galleries (which I assume would have been finished by the time James and Vivian visited). Further expansions took place in 1975 and 1991.

The National Gallery in Trafalgar Square as of Sept. 2014

View of the National Gallery from
my own visit in October 2014

I can't help thinking a fantastic book could be written about the National Gallery, and/or the Tate museums. But I'm afraid I have this one to finish first.

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