Sir William Boxall Papers

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 345 NGA1
  • Former Reference
      GB 345 NG14
  • Dates of Creation
  • Name of Creator
  • Language of Material
      English French German Italian Spanish
  • Physical Description
      11 boxes

Scope and Content

The collection contains correspondence, notes, papers, manuscripts and sketches created by William Boxall and his correspondents. It includes Boxall's professional correspondence relating to his career as a painter and papers relating to his work as Director of the National Gallery. The collection also includes personal correspondence with friends, peers and family members and some sketches and photographs.

Administrative / Biographical History

Boxall was born in Oxfordshire on 29 June 1800, the son of an exciseman. He was educated at Abingdon Grammar School, and entered the Royal Academy Schools in 1819. Between 1827 and 1830 he travelled throughout Italy and Sicily studying paintings. Boxall first exhibited paintings at the Royal Academy in 1823, and over the next decade began to forge a successful career as a portrait painter. In 1851 he was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy, and in 1863 a full Academician. Between 1823-1866 he exhibited over 80 works at the Royal Academy.

In February 1866, the Trustees of the National Gallery appointed Boxall as the new Director, to succeed Sir Charles Eastlake who had died the previous December. Boxall had not been the first choice for Director: the Prime Minister, Lord John Russell, had favoured Austen Henry Layard (Under Secretary at the Foreign Office), but he declined the post. The Queen suggested J.C. Robinson, Superintendent of Art at South Kensington. Gladstone finally suggested Boxall. The demands of the position were so great that they strained Boxall's health, and he considered resigning after five years. However, the Trustees and Prime Minister prevailed on him to remain, and he continued until 1874.

As Director, Boxall travelled throughout Europe to survey pictures for possible acquisition, and to study the management of foreign collections. He visited Italy, France, Belgium, Germany, Spain and Austria-Hungary. Notes made during these trips and reports to the Trustees remain with his papers.

Boxall had been a friend of Charles Eastlake since the 1840s, and was one of Eastlake's executors. As Director, Boxall negotiated with Lady Eastlake to secure for the Gallery a number of pictures from Eastlake's collection. These included Piero della Francesa's St Michael (NG769), Tura's Rovarella Altarpiece (NG772), and Pisanello's Saints Anthony and George (NG776). Boxall also secured the purchase of Eastlake's extensive library. Boxall and Lady Eastlake liaised to have Eastlake's travel journals collated and transcribed, and a set of copies deposited at the Gallery (archive reference NG22).

Boxall's acquisitions greatly expanded the scope of the Gallery's Collection, and notable acquisitions included Mantegna's Introduction of the Cult of Cybele at Rome (NG902), Crivelli's Demidoff Altar-piece (NG788), Michelangelo's Madonna and Child with Saint John and Angels (NG809) and the Peel Collection. Boxall expanded the collection of Dutch and Flemish works, which were later supplemented by the bequests from Wynn Ellis (1876) and Salting (1910). Boxall's acquisitions were not without controversy: the attribution of Rembrandt's Christ Blessing Little Children (NG757) led to heated debate in the House of Lords in 1869. Boxall's integrity was defended by Lord Overstone, Chairman of the Trustees. The painting is now attributed to Maes. There was further controversy in 1881, when the authenticity of Michelangelo's Entombment (NG790) was disputed in The Times.

Boxall was also concerned with improving the accommodation of the Gallery. In 1869 the Royal Academy left the Trafalgar Square building for its new accommodation, and the eastern half of the building then became free for the National Gallery. After a public competition, Edward Barry was commissioned to reconstruct the Gallery and build a new wing. The foundations were laid during 1872, and the work was finally completed in 1877, three years after Boxall's retirement. Boxall was also actively concerned with a wide range of routine matters of Gallery administration, including the hanging of the Collection, cleaning, staffing and furnishing.

Boxall was in contact with Frederick Burton, and appears to have aided his appointment as Director in 1874. Boxall was knighted on 24 March 1871, and received an honorary degree from Oxford in 1870. He died on 6 December 1879 and was buried at Kensal Green cemetery.


The Boxall Papers are divided into a number of series based on previous lists and various accruals. It is unlikely that these reflect Boxall's original arrangement. Although some of the letters have been grouped together according to a particular correspondent or subject, most of the series consist of general correspondence with Boxall. In some cases material has been separated out because it has no date; these items have then been listed in a separate series. The current arrangement reflects the earlier listings and does not attempt to recreate an original order for which there is no evidence.

Access Information


The papers are available to researchers by appointment with the Archivist.

Other Finding Aids

The most recent and complete list is held on CALM ALM. A paper list is also available at the National Gallery Archive.

Archivist's Note

Catalogued by Alan Crookham, February 2008.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright is likely to have expired for much of this series of records. However, it is still the responsibility of the reader to determine the exact copyright status of a work.

Custodial History

The papers were donated to the National Gallery in March 1973 by the widow of Austin Longland, who was the great nephew of Sir William Boxall. The gift was arranged by Basil Blackwell (of Blackwell's Books) and Kenneth Garlick (of the Ashmolean Museum).

The correspondence with Gladstone formerly listed at NG14/127 consisted of photocopied letters from the University of London Library. Only one of the four letters related to Boxall and the photocopies have therefore not been relisted as part of Boxall's papers. They are now housed in an information file on Gladstone in the Archive Office.

The album of sketches (NGA1/12/27) was presented by Mr Frank Herrmann in 1990.

NGA1/17-21 were purchased at Sotheby's on 20 March 1984, originally the property of E.H. Skinner.

NGA1/22 was donated by Michael Liversidge on 2 October 2000.