Trustees play an essential role in the affairs of the Gallery. They are responsible for determining the policies and overall strategy for the organisation: they oversee all Gallery business. The constitutional position of the Trustees was established in 1856, by Treasury Minute which founded the Gallery itself. The minute stated that 'Viscount Palmerston and the Chancellor of the Exchequer suggest to the Board that as the best mode of carrying into effect the intentions of Parliament the sum in question should be placed at the disposal of the Trustees, who will be responsible to the public for its application to the purposes of the grant'. Trustees are responsible for the way that money provided by HM Treasury is spent, but take on their responsibilities on behalf of the public in general.
Trustees are appointed by the Prime Minister. As recognised by the Museums and Galleries Act 1992, there are currently sixteen board members, of whom two, the President of the Royal Academy and the Lord President of the Council are ex officio.
The Board of Trustees is responsible for the following general matters: key objectives and targets; major decisions involving the use of financial and other resources; policies for such matters as personnel, health and safety, information, acquisitions and disposal, education, exhibitions, research, national and digital programmes.
It is also responsible for the following specific areas: approval of primary collection purchases and commissions; approval of the Corporate Plan and the three-year Business plan; approval of the Annual Report and Accounts; use and management of any trust funds; acquisition and disposal of land and buildings; approval of major building development proposals.
Trustee business is conducted, in the main, in meetings which are currently held four times a year. All meetings are minuted and the Minutes approved and signed by the Chairman at the following meeting. The Minutes may document any or all of the above detailed matters.
The Board of Trustees represents, therefore, the Gallery's highest decision making body and the Minutes of its meetings are one of its most significant institutional records.
The series includes, for meetings up to 1885, the draft minutes only. Between 1885 and 1891 agendas and papers are occasionally included. From 1892 the agenda, minutes, and the full set of discussion papers including Portraits on Offer, Loans Out from the Gallery, correspondence, statements of expenditure or financial accounts, are included.
There are no minutes and papers for the years 1979-1982.
Minutes of meetings from 2004 onwards are published on the Gallery's website.