Minutes of the National Gallery Board of Trustees

Scope and Content

The signed minutes cover all major areas of the Gallery's administration, including the acquisition of pictures, development of the collection, buildings, staff, conservation, constitution and relations with the government. They include some notes of letters read at meetings.

Administrative / Biographical History

The Board of Trustees' origins lie in a committee of six gentlemen appointed by a Treasury Minute of 2 July 1824. The Committee was established to superintend and inspect the National Gallery and to offer advice and direction to the Keeper. It did not meet for the first three and a half years of its existence and the first minutes of a meeting were recorded on 7 February 1828. Subsequently the Committee began to meet more frequently and acquired the title Board of Trustees.

When the Board's role was considered by the Select Committee on the National Gallery of 1853, it was decided that it should be retained in order to support the newly created post of Director. The Select Committee Report set out the Board's responsibilities in a more formal manner and established more precisely its relationship with the Director. The Board remained an advisory and supervisory body and the decision of the Director would be final (Treasury Minute of 27 March 1855). This remained the case until 1894 when the Treasury decided that the lack of any real power by the Board was no longer desirable and the burden of ultimate responsibility should no longer rest on a single individual. The Director would remain as the chief executive of the Gallery but all decisions relating to the development of the collection and the management of the Gallery would require the approval of the Board as a whole (Treasury Minute of 26 April 1894).

The size of the Board varied in the early nineteenth century as there was no minimum or maximum number of Trustees and appointments were made for life. The 1853 Select Committee partially addressed this by limiting the number to no more than six (Treasury Minute of 27 March 1855) although Trustees already in post were allowed to remain. The Select Committee disallowed ex-officio members of the Board, such positions having been held by the First Lord of the Treasury and the Chancellor of the Exchequer since 1846. Once the Board had been given increased powers in 1894 and was charged with administering the new National Gallery of British Art (the Tate Gallery), it was felt that a limit of six Trustees was no longer appropriate. Consequently the number of Trustees was raised to eight in 1897 (Treasury Minute of 5 June 1897) and to ten in 1909 (Treasury Minute of 17 July 1909).

It was not until 1916 that it was decided to limit the length of a Trustee's appointment when it was determined that Trustees would be appointed for a period of seven years and would not be eligible for reappointment until one vacancy had been filled on the Board (Treasury Minute of 3 August 1916). Following the National Gallery and Tate Gallery Act 1954, the number of Trustees was extended to 11, one of whom would be a representative of the Tate Gallery Board (Treasury Minute of 19 May 1955). Further changes were made in January 1988 when the term of office was reduced from seven to five years and the size of the Board was enlarged to fourteen members (Treasury Minute of November 1988). The Board is currently governed by the Museums and Galleries Act 1992 which sets out its objectives, powers and responsibilities.


The minutes are bound in volumes arranged chronologically by date of meeting.

Access Information


Access to certain information may be restricted under the Data Protection Act 2018 and other legislation. Minutes of the Board of Trustees from February 2006 are available on the National Gallery's website.

Other Finding Aids

The most recent and complete list is held on CALM ALM. A paper list is available from the National Gallery Archive; indexes to the Board of Minutes are located in the same series as the minutes, either incorporated at the end of the volume or separately bound.

Alternative Form Available

Microfilm copies of the Minutes exist; eight volumes of the Minutes and the corresponding indexes have been digitised. These should be consulted in the first instance to aid the preservation of the originals.

Archivist's Note

Catalogued by Alan Crookham, July 2005.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright is held by the National Gallery.

Appraisal Information

Minutes of the Board of Trustees are kept permanently.

Custodial History

The minutes are compiled by the Secretary to the Board and transferred to the National Gallery Archive annually after the first Board meeting of the year.


Minutes of the Board of Trustees are transferred to the National Gallery Archive annually.

Related Material

The Minutes of the Board of Trustees interlock with all other records in the National Gallery's Archive. However, they are particularly related to the following series:

NG25 Board papers 1925 onwards

NG26 Correspondence with the Trustees