The National Gallery is an art gallery in London, located on the north side of Trafalgar Square. It holds the National Collection of Art from 1250 to 1900 (subsequent art from the National Collection is housed in Tate Modern). Some British art is included, but the National Collection of British art from this period is mainly in Tate Britain. The collection of 2,300 paintings belongs to the British public, and entry to the main collection is free, though there are charges for entry to special exhibitions.
The National Gallery was established in 1824, when the art collection of the Russian émigré banker John Julius Angerstein was bought by the British government. For the first 14 years of its existence it had to exist in temporary accomodation in Angerstein's former townhouse on 100 Pall Mall. There followed further gifts, by Sir George Beaumont and the Rev. William Holwell Carr, on the condition that a more suitable building was found to house the national collecton, which came in 1838. 15th- and 16th-century Italian paintings were at the core of the new national collection and for the next 30 years the Trustees' independent acquisitions were mainly limited to works by High Renaissance masters.
In the mid-19th collecting tastes changed and the first appointed director, Sir Charles Eastlake, used his absolute authority in the choice of acquisitions to buy works by earlier Italian and Northern masters. The third director, Sir Frederic Burton, laid the foundations of the collection of 18th-century art and made several outstanding purchases from English private collections, including The Ambassadors by Hans Holbein the Younger. As the National Gallery continued to gorw in size many of the British paintings were transferred to the Tate Gallery in 1897.
In 1904 Mary Richardson, a member of the suffragette movement, walked into the Gallery and slashed Velázquez's 'Rokeby Venus' in protest at the mistreatment of women. During the 19th century the National Gallery contained no works by a contemporary artist, but this situation was belatedly amended by Sir Hugh Lane's bequest of Impressionist paintings in 1917 and by a fund established by Samuel Courtauld in 1924. At the outbreak of World War II the paintings were exiled to safety in a quarry above the town of Ffestiniog in North Wales.
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