John Passmore Edwards


Whitechapel Art Gallery

History page 2


The Gallery opened, with the first Annual Spring Exhibition, on 12 March 1901,Lord Rosebury performing the opening ceremony. Over 200,000 visitors attended the exhibition in the six weeks with the largest daily attendance being over 16,000. However donations received at the door were only £100 and, without an endowment, it was clear that the gallery was going to survive only through the enthusiasm of Charles Aitken, the full time Director,and with active, and generous Trustees.
Canon Barnett was the chairman of the Board of Trustees until his death in 1913. Other Trustees included Henrietta Barnett, Edgar Speyer, H Lawson, of the LCC, and W Blyth, who became Secretary and Treasurer. Many prominent people, including some local Anglo Jewish families, and the City Guilds were supporters of the Gallery. The gallery needed an income of around £500 per year to cover basic running costs and even with the regular donations, the gallery struggled to continue. The prospect of relinquishing the manageemnt of the gallery to the LCC was discussed but the LCC were not infavour but did award an annula grant from 1909.
1901 saw the staging of an exhibition of Chinese art, organised and funded by a separate committee, and in 1906 over 150,000 people visited the six week exhibition of Jewish Art and Antiquities.In 1910 George Bernard Shaw and Winston Churchill were both involved in the staging of the Shakespeare Memorial and Theatrical Exhibition. However, in 1914 prposals for an exhibitian of Twentieth Century Art, organised by Aitken and Gilbert Ramsey, who had become Director when Aitken moved to the Tate, caused Henrietta Barnett to write to plead with the them " not to get too many examples of the extreeme thought of this century, for we must never forget that the Whitechapel Gallery is intended for Whitechapel people, who have to be delicately led and will not understand the Post impressionist or futuristicmethodsof seeing or representing things".Whether the aims of the original Trustees- "to open to the people of East London a larger world than that in which they usually work. To draw them to a pleasure recreating their minds , and to stir in them a human curiosity" were being met is a matter of debate. Whilst many local people did attend the exhibitions even more were attracted from elsewhere. Perhaps there was value in them visiting the East end and seeing the daily living conditions of the working classes was equally valid.


Charles Harrison Townsend
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© Dean Evans 2004
July 23, 2007
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