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Whitechapel Art Gallery

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 2859
Held at: Whitechapel Art Gallery
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Full title: Whitechapel Art Gallery
Date(s): 1882-2002
Level of description: collection (fonds)
Extent: approximately 167 boxes, 210 volumes/folders, 3 filing cabinets and 1 plan chest.
Name of creator(s): Whitechapel Fine Art Exhibition | 1882-1900
Whitechapel Art Gallery | 1901-


Administrative/Biographical history:

In 1881, Canon Samuel Augustus Barnett, vicar of St Jude's Whitechapel, and his wife Henrietta, instigated what was to become and annual art exhibition of the best contemporary British works, along with some Old Masters. This fine art loan exhibition was held at St Jude's School House, Commercial Rd. The Barnetts believed that pictures 'would educate people so that they might realise the extent and meaning of the past, the beauty of nature, and the substance of hope'. The free annual exhibitions proved very popular, attracting 10 000 visitors in 1881, rising to over 55 000 by 1886. This popularity persuaded the Barnetts of the need for a permanent exhibition space in the East End. Land was purchased next door to the John Passmore Edwards Library, with a large donation from Passmore Edwards himself, and Edgar Speyer, A F Yarrow and Lord Iveagh.

In March 1901, the Whitechapel Art Galley, a purpose built arts and crafts building designed by Charles Harrison Townsend, was opened on the Whitechapel High St for the first Spring Picture exhibition. More than 200 000 visitors passed through in six weeks. The Gallery continues to provide space for a diverse range of temporary exhibitions. It holds no permanent collection of its own.

The WG is governed by a trust scheme, registered with the Charity Commissioners founded in 1901, with Canon Barnett as the first chair until his death in 1913. Of the sixteen trustees on the board, eleven are nominated by the Statutory authorities and the other foundations and institutions with which the Gallery has long standing ties, and five are co-opted members, traditionally with expertise of experience complimenting the nominated members.

The WG has always featured a wide range of exhibitions, including those by local artists and children, modern pictures and exhibitions form the national museums of objects illustrative of trades of periods. In 1901, this was born out by the exhibition of contemporary artists such as Ford Maddox Brown and Edward Burne-Jones, followed by an exhibition of Chinese Life and Art. In 1914, and early retrospective exhibition - Twentieth Century Art: a Review of Modern Movements, was followed by Jewish Art, which included works by Jacob Epstein. Annual exhibits have been held at different time for the Women's International Art Club, and the Artists International Association, amongst others. Exhibitions of design have also been a regular part of the calendar, and have included trades unions as well as the Contemporary Arts Society. In 1939, the gallery was used by the Aid Spain movement for a fundraising exhibition in which Picasso's Guernica took centre stage. During the 1950s and 1960s, exhibitions included works by Modernist masters such as Braque, Kandinsky, Barbara Hepworth, Jackson Pollock and Robert Rauschenberg.

In 1982 WG Board felt the need for a separate Trust to be created to channel non-government funding in the form of exhibition sponsorship and donations to the gallery, and a planning group for a Development Trust was established. This led to the formation of the Whitechapel Art Gallery Foundation on 1 Feb 1984. At the same time an Advisory Board was set up to provide expert advice to the gallery on areas such as advertising, marketing and sponsorship. In 1988, an annual joint meeting of the Gallery and Foundation trustees was instituted.

Recent exhibitions have included artist such as Liam Gillick, Gilbert & George, Eva Hesse, Bruce Nauman, Gerhard Richter and Rosemarie Trockel, and survey exhibitions Inside the Visible, Seven Stories About Modern Art in Africa, and Live in Your Head.

The Whitechapel Art Gallery Society was formed in February 1948, in order to support the gallery financially through private and business subscription and to serve as an opinion forming body on Gallery policy. It was intended that Society subscriptions be used to fund visible improvements to the gallery, however they tended to be absorbed into the day to day running costs. The Society declined in the 1960s, but was relaunched in 1970 when a salaried secretary was appointed. The Secretary resigned the same year 1970, however the financial records continue until 1978.

The American Friends of the Whitechapel Art Gallery Foundation Inc was incorporated in New York in 1987 to raise funds for the gallery in the USA.


Scope and content/abstract:

Records of the Whitechapel Art Gallery (WG) and its predecessor, comprising:

minutes of the Gallery Trustees 1898-1976; Gallery Trustees, Finance and Fundraising committees, 1976-1981; Gallery Trustees, Finance and Building committees, 1981-1986; Gallery Trustees and Finance committees 1987-1988; Trustees, Finance and Joint Trustees committees, 1988-1996; Finance Subcommittee 1950-1951, 1966-1971; Development Trust Planning Group, 1981-1983; and Foundation Trustees, 1984-1995; as well as Development Trust Scheme files, 1978-1982; Gallery Trustees correspondence 1949-1981; Foundation Trustees correspondence, 1981-1989;

annual reports and accounts 1901-present;

early records of the Gallery including files relating to the establishment of the Gallery 1893-1901; correspondence of Gallery Directors and Secretary's 1901-1947; financial records and treasurer's correspondence, 1902-1947; and exhibition files 1901-1947;

Gallery Directors' papers including administrative and correspondence files of Hugh Scrutton, 1947-1953; Bryan Robertson, 1952-1969; Mark Glazebrook, 1964-1973; Jennie Stein (acting Director), 1971-1974; Jasia Reichardt, 1974-1976; Nicholas Serota, 1978-1987;

exhibition files 1947-1990 files, arranged chronologically by year date of exhibition, including correspondence and papers relating to exhibition arrangements such as loan of artworks, sales, valuations, catalogues, private views, and installation;

printed publicity materials including catalogues of Whitechapel Fine Art Exhibitions, 1882-1886; catalogues of Whitechapel Art Gallery exhibitions, 1901-1965-present;

printed posters relating to individual exhibitions, 1956-2002;

press cuttings relating to reviews and listings of WG exhibitions, and some general cuttings about the gallery and the London art scene, 1897-1922, 1952-2002;

guard books containing ephemera - relating to each exhibition, 1949-2002;

records of the Whitechapel Art Gallery Society including correspondence and papers concerning subscriptions 1947-1988; and cash books 1948-1978;

photographs of exhibitions and artists works 1948-1998; photographs and illustrations of the Gallery and its exhibitions, 1901-1939; photographs of the Gallery building, staff and the local area, 1890-1915, 1951, [1972]-1998; contact sheets and negatives of exhibitions and the gallery, 1966-1995;

Gallery visitors books 1949-1965;

Financial records including cashbooks, wages books and exhibition accounts, 1899-1971;

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

As outlined above

Conditions governing access:

By appointment only. Contact the Archivist, Whitechapel Art Gallery, Whitechapel High St, London E1 7QX.
Letter of reference required for access to exhibition files. Trustees minutes and papers are subject to a 30 years closure period. Exhibition files from 1990 are also closed.

Conditions governing reproduction:

Photocopies available

Finding aids:

Handlists of most material.

Archival Information

Archival history:

Created and held in situ by the Gallery.

Immediate source of acquisition:

In 1998, Norman King donated papers relating to the Exhibition on Guernica. These have been incorporated into the main collection.

Allied Materials

Related material:

Papers of Samuel Augustus Barnett, (1844-1913) Canon of Westminster Social Reformer: letters and papers 1867-1913 (Ref: ACC/3816/02), correspondence with various artists and literary figures, 1890-1910 (Ref: LMA/4266) held at the London Metropolitan Archives.

National Register of Archives: Click here to view NRA record

Publication note:

The Whitechapel Art Gallery Centenary Review, 1901-2001, WG, London, 2001.

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
Sources: Historical Manuscripts Commission's On-Line National Register of Archives; 'A short history of the Whitechapel Art Gallery', A Tarsia and J Haythornthwaite, 2003; The Whitechapel Art Gallery Centenary Review, 1901-2001, WG, London, 2001.
Compiled by Alison Field as part of the London Signpost Survey Project

Rules or conventions:
Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal Place and Corporate Names 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions:
September 2003

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