Creating a National Collection, a unique collaboration between the National Gallery and Southampton City Art Gallery, will reopen the gallery in Southampton on Friday 28 May, running until Saturday 4 September 2021, the first exhibition to explore the story of the National Gallery’s role in the creation of Southampton’s collection. Southampton is bidding to be UK City of Culture 2025.

The exhibition twins outstanding works from Southampton’s collection with sister paintings from the National Gallery, by artists including Monet, Gainsborough, Maggi Hambling and Paula Rego. This will be the first set of loans on such a large scale to be made by the National Gallery to a regional gallery in nearly a decade.

(From left to right) Claude Monet, The Church at Vétheuil, 1880 © Southampton Cultural Services and Claude Monet, The Petit Bras of the Seine at Argenteuil, 1872 © The National Gallery, London

The historical links between the two galleries are significant, but little known. This fruitful relationship was established from the start, when Cllr Robert Chipperfield (1817–1911), whose bequest in 1911 led to the creation of the collection and the Art Gallery in Southampton, ensured that future acquisitions would be of a national calibre. Chipperfield had the foresight to stipulate that all purchases using his Trust fund should be undertaken in consultation with the Director of the National Gallery. Kenneth Clark, newly installed as the National Gallery’s Director in 1934 took a particularly active interest in advising Southampton on acquisitions and wrote its first formal collecting policy in 1936, which essentially remains in place today.

The two institutions have worked in partnership as part of the current 2019–21 National Gallery Curatorial Traineeship programme, supported by Art Fund with the assistance of the Vivmar Foundation, with Curatorial Trainee, Jemma Craig, leading on a project to explore this dynamic and ongoing collaboration. A major publication will accompany the exhibition which will tell the fascinating history of Southampton City Art Gallery, and its relationship with the National Gallery, using untapped archival material and new oral histories.

The exhibition and publication have been organised by Southampton City Art Gallery in partnership with the National Gallery, London.

Dr Gabriele Finaldi, Director of the National Gallery, said:

“We are absolutely delighted to celebrate this moment in our two histories. The visionary collaboration between the National Gallery and Southampton City Art Gallery at its founding is at the heart of this story, creating such an important collection for the benefit of the public. We are proud to be part of this story.”

Councillor Dan Fitzhenry, Leader of Southampton City Council said:

“Southampton City Art Gallery is one of the great jewels in our city’s crown, and we are proud and delighted that the historic relationship between Southampton and the National Gallery is recognised through the current exhibition and publication. It’s a great opportunity for us to not only share masterpieces from our two great art collections side by side, but also to foster Southampton’s young talent through the Art Fund’s support of Jemma Craig on her Curatorial Traineeship at the National Gallery. We have an incredible city of arts and heritage assets, and bidding for UK City of Culture is for us about enriching lives, growing and developing opportunity and showcasing our great city on the world stage. This partnership with the National Gallery is a perfect example of what we are bidding for and why we believe that Southampton can win the honour of being UK City of Culture in 2025.”

Jenny Waldman, Director of Art Fund, said:

‘The vital experience gained through the Curatorial Traineeship programme enables young curators to develop new, exciting ideas and thinking that enrich our public collections. Art Fund is proud to continue this spirit of collaboration by funding the Curatorial Traineeship which produced this exhibition and its insights into the long partnership between the National Gallery and Southampton City Art Gallery. The exhibition and its related publication affirm the importance of curatorial training and the role the curator can play in enriching regional collections, which is central to the mission of Art Fund.”