The Heritage Lottery Fund and London’s Museums

The Heritage Lottery Fund and London’s Museums

Miriam Kramer

The Heritage Lottery Fund, benefiting from the British National Lottery, has distributed [pounds]450 million to British museums for expansion, renovation, and other major capital projects in the course of its five-year existence. This spring such a large number of these projects have come to fruition that the expansion can be compared to the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations held in London in 1851.

By far the most expensive project is the transformation of a vacant power station on the south bank of the Thames River in London into the Tate Modern (see Pls. III, IV) for the display of the twentieth-century works of art formerly in the Tate Gallery (now renamed Tate Britain; see P1. II) across the river. The power station was designed in 1947 by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott (1880-1960) and converted into a museum at a cost of [pounds]134 million, of which [pounds]50 million came from the Millennium Commission (another National Lottery funding arm), and [pounds]6.2 million came from the Arts Council. The Swiss architectural firm of Herzog and de Meuron retained the integrity of the building while providing exhibition space for even the largest works of modern art, such as the specially commissioned inaugural sculpture by Louise Bourgeois (1911-). The Tate Modem opened on May 12, two months after Tate Britain completed a new extension and rehung its collection. The Tate Britain project was carried out by John Miller and Partners at a cost of [pounds]32.3 million, of which half came from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

When it opens on June 10, the Millennium Bridge–for pedestrians only– will link the Tate Modem with Saint Paul’s Cathedral on the opposite shore (see P1. IV). It is the first Thames crossing to be built in more than a century and the first pedestrian bridge to span the river. It was designed by the architects Foster and Partners, the sculptor Sir Anthony Caro (1924-), and the engiengineers Ove Arup and Partners. It is a 350-meter-long suspension bridge 4 meters wide, and at night it will be illuminated to form a blade of light. The bridge cost [pounds]18 million, of which [pounds]7.1 million was contributed by the Millennium Commission. The bridge represents a unique cooperative venture between the extremely wealthy Corporation of London on the north bank and the financially struggling Borough of Southwark on the south bank.

When Charles Saumarez Smith became the director of the National Portrait Gallery (NPG) in 1994 he instigated an expansion plan called NPG 2000, which was completed last month. The museum, which was already the world’s largest portrait gallery, has now been extended to provide 50 percent more exhibition and public space (see P1. XIII). The budget was [pounds]15.9 million, of which [pounds]11.9 million came from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The Dixon Jones architectural partnership was responsible for integrating a new building between two existing buildings–the National Portrait Gallery and the National Gallery. An escalator second only in length to some on the Underground takes visitors to the top of the new building so they can see the portraits in chronological order, starting with the Tudor monarchs and ending with modem portraits. Other new facilities include a lecture hall, an IT (interactive technology) gallery equipped with computers and study terminals, and a restaurant on the top floor with magnifice nt views of Trafalgar Square, the Houses of Parliament, and Westminster Abbey.

Dulwich Picture Gallery, founded in 1811, is Britain’s oldest public art museum. It contains a splendid collection of seventeenth- and eighteenth- century paintings in a building designed by Sir John Soane (1753-1837). However, the building had hardly changed since it was built and was woefully inadequate for modern visitors. It was closed at the end of 1998, and an extension designed by Rick Mather Associates was built at a cost of some [pounds]9 million. The extension is linked to the Soane building by a cloister, thus fulfilling the original intention to form a collegiate quadrangle (see P1. VIII). The gallery reopened last month with an inaugural exhibition, on view until July 30, entitled Soane’s Favourite Subject: The Story of the Dulwich Picture Gallery, which examines the collectors and collections that led to the foundation of the gallery and the creation of the Soane building to house them. The new extension provides a studio for practical art education, a lecture hall, a small gallery for temporary exhibitions, and a caf[acute{e}].

Rick Mather Associates was also responsible for work done at the Wallace Collection (Pl. V), which this year marks its centenary as a national museum. Since the building is on a self-contained site, adding another building was impossible, so four new galleries, a library lecture hall, and seminar room were created in the basement. The new galleries are for temporary exhibitions, the display of watercolors (thanks to the controlled lighting), explanation and occasional demonstration of conservation techniques, and the display of the reserve collection. The pi[grave{e}]ce de r[acute{e}]sistance is the central courtyard, which now has a glass roof covering a sculpture garden and restaurant (see Pl. VII). The Heritage Lottery Fund contributed [pounds]7.2 million toward the [pounds]10.5 million cost of the Wallace scheme. The improved museum opens on June 22.

Somerset House, designed by Sir William Chambers (1723-1796) and built from 1776 onwards, houses a range of offices for the civil service and learned societies. Over the past two centuries organizations have come and gone, but the basic use of the building remained offices for worthy institutions and access was severely restricted to the public. Ten years ago the Courtauld Institute of Art and the Courtauld Gallery moved into the north wing. Now more of the building has been reclaimed for the public with the opening of two more museums within it. The first houses the Gilbert Collection of decorative arts, which was given to the nation in 1996 and has been on view at Somerset House since May 26. Sir Arthur Gilbert (1913-) was born in London but moved to California in 1949, where he became a real estate developer. As a collector his interests include European silver, gold snuffboxes, enameled portrait miniatures, and Italian mosaics. Some eight hundred objects from the collection are on display.

The second museum is an unusual venture whereby a suite of rooms overlooking the Thames will be devoted to rotating exhibitions from the Russian State Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg beginning in November. The project is coordinated by Mikhail Piotrovski, the director of the Hermitage, and Lord Rothschild, a trustee of the Hermitage Development Trust. Geraldine Norman, who writes about the arts, has been designated the director of the museum.

Two other parts of Somerset House have also been opened for public use: the riverside terrace, now the home of a caf[acute{e}], restaurant, and museum shops; and the courtyard, formerly a parking lot for the Inland Revenue, and now a haven from the city with a fifty-five-jet fountain as its centerpiece (see Pl. X). Entertainments planned for the courtyard include concerts and film screenings for a potential audience of 3,500 people.

At the Imperial War Museum, a six-story extension designed by Ove Arup Associates opens on June 7. The [pounds]13.2 million project was supported by a [pounds]12.6 million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The largest element in the addition is a Holocaust exhibition on two floors. There is also an education and conference center.

When the Welcome Wing, designed by MacCormac Jamieson Prichard, opens on June 30, the Science Museum, a branch of the National Museum of Science and Industry, will have been augmented by one third. In addition to an IMAX theater and a restaurant, the wing contains six exhibitions devoted to the latest developments in science, medicine, and technology Of the [pounds]50 million cost of the wing, the Heritage Lottery Fund contributed [pounds]23 million.

The beginning of the new millennium heralds a significant change in London’s visual arts landscape, largely due to the National Lottery, but also to the vision of the directors and trustees of the many institutions involved.

MIRIAM KRAMER is a freelance writer in London, specializing in art and antiques. Her Report from Europe appears in ANTIQUES every Other month.

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