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Collections Development Policy

Name of Museum: The National Portrait Gallery

Name of governing body: The Board of Trustees of the National Portrait Gallery (hereafter referred to as the ‘Trustees’)

Date on which this policy was approved by governing body: 5 July 2018

Policy review procedure: The collections development policy will be published and reviewed from time to time, at least once every five years.

This Policy supersedes and cancels all earlier and existing policies, practices and customs.

Date at which this policy is due for review: no later than 5 July 2023

Arts Council England (ACE) will be notified of any changes to the collections development policy, and the implications of any such changes for the future of existing collections.

1. Scope and responsibilities

This Policy covers those objects in the Primary Collection, as well as those in the Reference Archive and Photographic Collections, and forms part of the National Portrait Gallery’s Collections Management framework which consists of:

This is in compliance with the published Accreditation Guidance provided by Arts Council England, the delivery body for Accreditation in the United Kingdom.

This Policy should be read in conjunction with the above framework and the Gallery’s Collections Due Diligence Policy.

The main Library and Archive collections are covered by the Archive Service Accreditation Standard, managed by The National Archives.

Director responsible for mapping and directing Collections Development in dialogue with the Chief Curator.

Chief Curator responsible for maintaining an overview of Collections Development, in dialogue with the Curatorial team.

Curatorial Team responsible for advising on the collecting undertaken within their particular period or media (i.e. photographical collections).

Director of Exhibitions and Collections responsible for providing a strategic overview of Collections Development in relation to Exhibitions and Collections.

Head of Collections Services responsible for providing Collections Management support as required to enable the development of the Collection and managing the Gallery’s relationship with Arts Council England.

Acquisitions & Displays Registrar responsible for providing Registration support as required to enable the development of the Collection.

Senior Archive and Library Manager responsible for providing strategic overview of library, archive and reference collections, and Archive Service Accreditation.

Intellectual Property Officer to be involved in any discussions regarding copyright and Intellectual Property

2. Introduction


The National Portrait Gallery is the national museum responsible for the history of British Portraiture. The overall aims of the Gallery, derived from the Museums and Galleries Act 1992, are:

  • To promote through the medium of portraits the appreciation and understanding of the men and women who have made and are making British history and culture.
  • To promote the appreciation and understanding of portraiture in all media.  


The Trustees will ensure that both acquisition and disposal are carried out openly and with transparency. It will also ensure, through its collecting activity and Corporate Plan, that the Gallery retains its status as the institution for the study and enjoyment of both portraits and portraiture.


By definition, the Gallery has a long-term purpose and holds collections in trust for the benefit of the public in relation to its stated objectives. The Trustees therefore accept the principle that sound curatorial reasons must be established before consideration is given to any acquisition to the Collection, or the disposal of any items in the Gallery's Collection.


Acquisitions outside the current stated policy will only be made in exceptional circumstances, and then only after proper consideration by the Director and the Trustees, having regard to the interests of other museums and galleries.


The Gallery recognises its responsibility, when acquiring additions to its collections, to ensure that care of collections, documentation arrangements and use of collections will meet the requirements of the Museum Accreditation Standard. This includes using SPECTRUM primary procedures for collections management. It will take into account limitations on collecting imposed by such factors as staffing, storage and care of collection arrangements.


The Gallery will undertake due diligence and make every effort not to acquire, whether by purchase, gift, bequest or exchange, any object or specimen unless the Trustees or Director is satisfied that the Gallery can acquire a valid title to the item in question.


When considering a potential acquisition due account is taken of the Gallery's responsibility to ensure adequate conservation, documentation and to take into account limitations imposed by such factors as staffing, storage, conservation resources, display space and long term maintenance costs associated with non-traditional media. Due account is also taken of the collecting policies of other museums, both national and non-national, in order to avoid unnecessary duplication and waste of public resources (see section 8).


The Gallery does not acquire any object unless the Trustees are satisfied that it can acquire good title to the object in question, and that it has not been acquired in, or exported from, its country of origin (or any intermediate country in which it may have been legally owned) in violation of that country's laws. (For the purposes of this paragraph ‘country of origin’ includes the United Kingdom).


Authority to collect and dispose of property, including Gallery objects, is derived from the Museums and Galleries Act 1992. Under the terms of the of the Act the Trustees maintain ‘a collection of portraits in all media of the most eminent persons in British history, of other works of art relevant to portraiture and of documents relating to those portraits and other works of art’.


In exceptional cases, disposal may be by sale and the procedures outlined below will be followed. In this case the Trustees will not undertake disposal unless it can be demonstrated that all the following exceptional circumstances are met in full:

  • the disposal will significantly improve the long-term public benefit derived from the remaining collection
  • the disposal will not be undertaken to generate short-term revenue (for example to meet a budget deficit)
  • the disposal will be undertaken as a last resort after other sources of funding have been thoroughly explored
  • extensive prior consultation with sector bodies has been undertaken
  • the item under consideration lies outside the Gallery's established core collection


In addition, the Gallery will not normally accept items for the Collection if:

  • they are, or are likely to become, physically dangerous and/ or a health and safety hazard or a hazard to other objects within the Collection
  • they are beyond the means of the Gallery to conserve, store, document or make accessible to an adequate standard
  • they are accompanied by unduly restrictive conditions
  • they duplicate existing Collection items or open up new avenues for collecting not covered by this Policy.

3. History of the Collection


The National Portrait Gallery, the first such gallery of its kind when it was formally established on 2 December 1856, is the national museum responsible for celebrating the leading figures in British history and the history of British Portraiture.


The Gallery acquires portraits from the life in all media, whether by purchase, bequest, transfer, acceptance in lieu, allocation or gift, of the most nationally-significant persons in British history from the earliest times to the present day. The concept of a Primary Collection of paintings, sculpture, miniatures and a Reference Collection or study collection of prints was established immediately following the Gallery's foundation in 1856 and then later reflected in the Museums and Galleries Act 1992. The collections fulfil the enduring function:

  • to act as a national focus for the study and understanding of portraits and portraiture.


In the early 1960s photographs were formally added to the Collection and in 1969 the Gallery began to collect living sitters, representing a move towards contemporary representations of portraiture. Since 1980 the Gallery has hosted an annual portrait prize exhibition, which is currently sponsored by BP, and has regularly commissioned portraits in all media that represent living sitters. These, like all other works in the Primary Collection, are selected by the Trustees.

4. An overview of existing Collections


The Primary Collection of paintings, sculpture, miniatures, drawings, prints, photographs, silhouettes and mixed/new media works contains some 12,597 portraits of the most famous people in British history. Of these, 4109 are paintings, sculptures and miniatures, approaching 60% of which are regularly displayed at the Gallery or elsewhere on loan. In addition, there are some 8,471 works on paper, shown on a rotating basis of about 120 items a year to avoid excessive light exposure and thus to minimise deterioration and fading.

The Reference Collection contains portraits, predominantly printed portraits and a smaller collection of drawings and sketchbooks, together with silhouettes and caricatures, which have been acquired primarily for research and documentary purposes and to provide a supplementary context for the Gallery’s Primary Collection. The Reference Collection is primarily housed in the Heinz Archive & Library and contains approximately 85,000 works on paper, 2,500 drawings, 75 paintings and 140 sculptures, and a small but growing collection of popular ceramics. This unique national resource allows the Gallery to collect beyond the acquisition criteria for the main Collection, and are drawn upon for display purposes as well as supporting learning activities and research into portraiture at the Gallery.

The Heinz Archive and Library also contains 40,000 books and manages the Gallery’s Records and Collected Archives.

The Contemporary Portrait Collection, which used to be standalone, is now part of the Primary and Reference Collections.

The Gallery also holds an important Photographs Collection which spans both the Primary and Reference Collections; it comprises more than 250,000 original photographic images of which at least 130,000 are original negatives. They date from the 1840s to the present day.


Today the Gallery’s Collection is among the largest and most prestigious collections of portraits in the world in all media. Highlights include the 'Chandos' portrait of William Shakespeare (NPG 1), which was given by one of the founding trustees, Lord Ellesmere, and was the first picture to enter the Gallery's Collection. Other major holdings include the Gallery's earliest work in the Collection; the 1505 portrait of King Henry VII (NPG 416); and the pencil and watercolour sketch of Jane Austen (NPG 3630). Other significant works include Ellen Terry (‘Choosing’) (NPG 5048), by George Frederick Watts; as well as the only surviving group portrait of the Brontë sisters (NPG 1725). The Collection also contains work in new and time-based media from Noble & Webster’s silhouette portrait of Isabella Blow made up of taxidermy birds and other animals (NPG 6872) to Julian Opie’s self-portrait (NPG 6830) and Sam Taylor Johnson’s video portrait of David Beckham (NPG 6661).


The Collection has been displayed at St Martin's Place since 1896. Before then the Gallery occupied other premises in Westminster, South Kensington and Bethnal Green. The present building, designed by Ewan Christian, was the gift of William Henry Alexander. An extension was built in the 1930s from funds provided by Sir Joseph (later Lord) Duveen. 1993 saw the opening of a permanent home in Orange Street for the Gallery's archive and library, funded by the Drue Heinz Foundation, together with new offices and a conservation studio. The most recent addition was the Ondaatje Wing in 2000, providing additional gallery space, improved visitor facilities and a new lecture theatre, funded by Sir Christopher Ondaatje, the Heritage Lottery Fund and several donors. In 2004, the refurbished Regency display in the Weldon Galleries completed a ten year programme of buildings renewal.  In 2011 the Gallery entered into a long-term partnership with the Tate to house its stored collections in world-class facilities in South London. In recent years the conservation studios and art handling office have been upgraded at the Gallery.


The Gallery has ongoing national partnerships with Montacute House in Somerset and Beningbrough Hall in Yorkshire (both National Trust properties). Regular partnership working also takes place with some museums, e.g. Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums, and there are ongoing loan and display arrangements with other galleries and historic houses.

5. Themes and priorities for future collecting


The National Portrait Gallery takes the lead in acquiring portraits of national significance, based on the principal of the authenticity of the likeness of the sitter. The principal focus of collecting remains the representation of relevant sitters produced in their lifetime, rather than the work of individual artists or in a specific media.


A key area of collection development is 20th and 21st century portraiture in all media. The Gallery is particularly interested to acquire works which reflect the diversity of British history and culture and highlight achievement in a wide range of different fields, from sporting success, entertainment, science, the arts, business, politics and intellectual life. The Gallery’s collecting ambitions include a desire to reflect and respond to social and technological changes and it continues to explore the acquisition and commission of portraits in non-traditional media.


The Gallery will also continue to collect rare vintage photographic material and modern and contemporary photographs allowing the development of national resource representing individuals who have contributed to British national life and where relevant popular culture.

As a world class research centre for the study of portraiture, the Gallery is also keen to continue to selectively acquire archival material that elucidates artistic practice in relation to British portraiture in all periods and all media, including artist’s sketchbooks and workshop documentation and to maintain a library resource to support the research needs at the Gallery.


The Gallery regularly acquires important works for the historic collection where there are key gaps in our holdings, particularly in the representation of women and BAME sitters. Portraits that enhance the understanding of the practice of portraiture across time and provide insights into production methods, media, patronage, display and appreciation of British sitters are also selectively acquired. This type of material includes caricature, printed imagery, cartoons, and works in specific or unique media which serve to document the development of artistic practices.


In general, for acquisitions requiring additional, internal or external fundraising, the focus shall be on:

a. Works currently on long term loan to the Gallery that are offered for sale by the lender.

b. Works depicting sitters of significance as defined by this Policy, who are currently not represented in the Primary or Reference Collection.

c. Works depicting currently under-represented groups including female sitters or sitters from cultural, social or ethnic backgrounds who meet the existing criteria of this Policy and who are not currently represented in the Primary Collection.

d. Works that meet the criteria as laid out in this Policy that have the capacity for a transformational impact in significantly increasing audience engagement or would be required for display within the exhibition or display programme.

e. Works created in an under-represented medium or technique.


These criteria above do not indicate that all works meeting these criteria will be acquired, nor do they imply that all works falling outside these criteria shall be routinely rejected, particularly where items are part funded.

6. Themes and priorities for rationalisation and dispersal


The Gallery recognises that the principles on which priorities for rationalisation and disposal are determined will be through a formal review process that identifies which collections are included and excluded from the review. The outcome of review and any subsequent rationalisation will not reduce the quality or significance of the Collection and will result in a more useable, well-managed Collection.


The procedures used will meet professional standards. The process will be documented, open and transparent. There will be clear communication with key stakeholders about the outcomes and the process.


  • As laid down in the Museums and Galleries Act 1992, the Trustees may dispose of an object, by way of transfer, sale, exchange or gift:
  • where the object is transferred to another national museum or institution listed in Schedule 5 Part 1 of the Act or other accredited museums.
  • where the object is a duplicate of another object which they own or where the Gallery’s collection of a specific sitter includes multiple portraits.  
  • where the identification of a portrait formerly accepted by the Gallery has been universally discredited and the portrait is no longer considered by both Gallery Curators and external scholars to represent a particular British sitter.
  • where the object has become useless by reason of damage, physical deterioration, or infestation by destructive organisms (in which case    the means of disposal can include destruction).


This notwithstanding, there is a strong presumption against disposal and the Gallery will not undertake disposal motivated principally by financial reasons.

7. Legal and ethical framework for acquisition and disposal of items


The Gallery recognises its responsibility to work within the parameters of the Museum Association Code of Ethics when considering acquisition and disposal of items.

8. Collecting policies of other institutions


The Gallery will take account of the collecting policies of other museums, libraries and archives collecting in the same or related areas or subject fields. It will consult with these organisations where conflicts of interest may arise or to define areas of specialisms, in order to avoid unnecessary duplication and waste of resources. The Gallery will avoid competing knowingly at auction with any other publicly funded museum, gallery, library or archive.


Specific reference is made to the following institutions:

  • British Library
  • British Museum
  • Imperial War Museums
  • National Army Museum, London
  • National Gallery of Ireland
  • National Museums Scotland
  • Tate
  • The National Gallery, London
  • The Royal Academy of Arts
  • The Royal Collection
  • The Scottish National Portrait Gallery
  • The V&A Museum


The Gallery may, on occasion, enter into joint-acquisition agreements with other interested parties. Any such agreements will clearly set out the terms of acquisition, including but not limited to the purchase price; conservation; insurance and other practical arrangements around the long-term care of the object(s) in question.

9. Acquisition Process


All offers to the Primary and Reference Collections must meet the terms of this Policy.


Acquisitions for the Primary Collection, agreed first at a monthly Curatorial Meeting chaired by the Director, are subject to the formal approval of the Trustees which meets four times a year. Trustees have the right of veto on the acquisition of Primary Collection works.


Acquisitions for the Reference Collection are delegated to the Director and are formally approved by the monthly Curatorial Meeting.


For bids at auction the Chair of the Trustee Board will authorise a bid to an agreed level on behalf of the Board.


Each offer, whether for the Primary or Reference Collection, is considered on a case by case basis, taking into account eligibility and suitability for the Collection, quality, authenticity, historic importance, value to the Gallery and current resources. Any recommendations for the long-term care of a potential item shall be considered.

The principle for the inclusion of a portrait in the Collection is that a person represented should have made, or be making, a substantial contribution to British history or culture. The subject of a portrait acquired for the Collection must either be important in his or her field, be a person whose achievements, influence and reputation set him or her apart as an individual of public interest, or illuminate British history and culture in a significant way. The Gallery places particular importance on attempting to ensure that, within these essential criteria, the selection of sitters takes account of social and cultural diversity and that a broad range of fields of endeavours are considered.


The Gallery’s second objective in building its collections is to acquire portraits that enable research into, and an appreciation of, the history of portraiture, including significant and representative examples of portrait types and the work of exceptional portrait artists.


All items donated to or purchased by the Trustees become the absolute property of the Trustees, whether formally accessioned or not. Every effort will be made to acquire the intellectual property rights (where these still exist) in items at the time of acquisition. The inability to achieve this, particularly if caused by undue complexities and/ or disputes among the owners or alleged owners of the rights, may result in the acquisition process being terminated.


The Trustees reserves the right to require a 'dowry' of money, staff or premises (or any combination thereof) as a condition of accepting any item or items for the Collection.


In pursuant of this Policy, the Trustees seek to make best use of all other available funding sources including Members, Patrons, the Portrait Trust, the Portrait Fund, the Art Fund, the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the Heritage Lottery Fund and any other sources of funding which from time to time may become available.


In the interests of propriety, items will never be purchased for the Collection from serving Members of the Trustees, serving members of the Gallery staff, volunteers, trainees, interns, contractors, or partners or business associates of any of the above. A period of seven years will run from the date that a person ceases to be in any of the above categories before the Gallery will consider purchasing items from them.


The Gallery will maintain acquisition and catalogue documentation that includes a work’s inventory number (accession or temporary receipt number), legal status of the work, activity and history of the object within the Gallery (e.g., transfer of stewardship between departments and a record of movement of the work), loan and exhibition history, provenance, copyright agreement and credit line at the time of acquisition.

The Gallery maintains an emergency plan which is reviewed yearly; it sits alongside other business continuity and evacuation procedures. This plan is designed to move the Collection to a safe place in the event of an emergency and undertake remedial action as appropriate. All relevant staff receive training as part of their induction and refresher training is provided as required.


All paperwork, including that of disposal, will be stored in accordance with the Gallery’s Data Protection Policy and relevant legislation.


The Gallery recognises the challenges of acquiring and preserving non-traditional media over a long period of time.

The Gallery will acquire and maintain New Media works in their original ‘period’ format. Works will be displayed as they were originally installed for as long as the equipment is available.

The acquisition of works with high rates of degradation or deterioration will be considered on a case-by-case basis with due regard to long-term preservation considerations and the overall public benefit. No such work will be acquired if it endangers other collections held by the Gallery.

The Gallery recognises the complex composition of time-based and other forms of digital media, namely the requirement to periodically replace obsolete hardware and software components of the work. This will always be done, wherever possible, in collaboration with the original artist’s studio, so that the ‘form’ of the original work of art can be preserved for as long as possible. Where this is not possible, best judgement shall apply based on the current technology and funds available at the time.

Obsolete hardware or software components of such works of art, which cannot be fixed or reused, shall be disposed of in line with section 23 of this Policy. However, this shall not require Trustee approval as the component will be replaced, wherever possible, with a suitable alternative. Such approval on the disposal and/or replacement will be sought from the Curatorial Meeting and shall comply with the other relevant disposal terms of this Policy.

10. Acquisition Criteria for the Primary Collection


The Gallery collects portraiture for the Primary Collection in all media including paintings, drawings, miniatures, engravings, artist’s prints, sculpture, photographs, photographic negatives, film, digital works and new media, as well as works of mixed media. As laid down in the Museums and Galleries Act 1992 the Trustees acquire, whether by purchase, gift, bequest, commission and transfer, portraits of the most significant persons in British history in all media as well as portraits and other objects of particular importance to the study of British portraiture.

The criteria for acquisition have evolved from those laid down at the Trustees' second meeting on 16th February 1857 where it was stated that it should be 'the rule... to look to the celebrity of the person represented' in the first place; and that Trustees shall 'attempt to estimate’ the ‘significance of the sitter’s achievements without any bias to any political or religious party.  Nor will they consider great faults and errors, even though admitted on all sides, as any sufficient ground for excluding any portrait which may be valuable as illustrating the…history of the country'.


It has been a central concern of the Trustees since the foundation of the Gallery that the portraits acquired should in some way be authentic records of the sitter’s appearance and that the portraits should, wherever possible, be undertaken from life. In particular, the Gallery places considerable importance on original art works created during the lifetime of the sitter; it gives lower priority to later copies of historic portraits, except:

a. Where no other portrait of an important sitter is available;

b. Where the copy in a significant way illuminates or adds to the appreciation of the portraiture of an individual or the practice of portraiture;

c. Where a copy is accepted as part of a larger collection to maintain the unity of that collection;

d. Where the copy is an autograph replica by the original artist.


The Gallery recognises that the practice of some artists involves working indirectly (for example from photographs or secondary sources), as well as directly from the life. The Gallery will also have regard to the importance of the image, the identification and significance of the artist, and the value of the portrait to the Gallery's educational and interpretative work in the appreciation and understanding of portraiture.

11. Acquisition Criteria for the Photographs Collection and Reference Collection (including archival holdings)


The Gallery acquires works for the Photographs Collection in order to expand the representation of significant sitters since the advent of photography. Acquisitions for the Photographs Collection follows the general principle of collecting portraits of men and women who have contributed, or are contributing to, British history and culture.  The range of sitters selected is wider than those acquired for the Primary Collection (where sitters are determined by the Trustees). The Photographs Collection also acquires portraits and other objects of particular importance to the study of British portraiture, including the work of significant portrait photographers.


The Gallery may chose to photograph groups or a set of people, outstanding in a particular field (examples could include restaurateurs and chefs, gardeners and horticulturalists, leaders in the telecommunication field etc.). The Gallery will usually select the sitters and photographer.

The Gallery may also purchase individual contemporary portrait photographs where a compelling image is deemed to represent an important individual well.

The Gallery may also acquire sets of photographs, offered by gift, bequest or other means, where the persons concerned or the quality of the photographer make the set of outstanding interest to the national collection.


The Gallery acquires works for the Reference Collection (usually works on paper, albums and documentary material) in order to preserve primary and secondary visual sources relating to the history of portraiture. The Gallery is guided by the 'Code of Practice on Archives for Museums and Galleries in the United Kingdom' (3rd ed., 2002) when acquiring archival material.


The Gallery does acquire photographs of portraits, but does not collect studies relating to portraits in the Collection except where they are particularly illuminating of the process of portraiture or the Gallery’s understanding of a particular portrait.


On occasion works from the Reference Archive or Photographs Collection may be transferred to the Primary Collection on the advice of Gallery Curatorial staff and when approved by the Trustees.

12. Medal Collections

In collecting medallic portraits, the Gallery’s first consideration will be the importance of the sitter. Medals will normally be collected for the following reasons:

a. when a medal is the best or only way of representing a sitter;

b. when a medal is a particularly appropriate way to represent a sitter, e.g. where any other medium, such as an oil portrait, would not meet the overall themes of the display or exhibition;

c. when a medal is of exceptional aesthetic, iconographic or historical significance.

13. Commissioning Process


Curators and Trustees each prepare a list of potential sitters for further discussion at one of the quarterly Trustee meetings. The selection takes into account under-represented areas of the Collection.  Once the commission is agreed the Director writes to the potential sitter. The Gallery will then select a shortlist of artists which are discussed with the sitter.


Once the artist is agreed a preliminary meeting is arranged with the sitter and artist usually at the Gallery.   At this stage the issue of rights are discussed with the artist and a draft agreement shown to them.  On completion of the portrait it is viewed by the Director and Contemporary Curator and then taken to a Curatorial Meeting for approval before being taken forward to the Trustees.  Once approved by the Trustees a final agreement assigning all rights to the Gallery, aside from moral rights, will be signed by the artist.


Commissions proceed as staff time and resources allow; they are generally funded from the Gallery’s acquisitions budget or external funding bodies. A £5000 commission, funded by BP, is awarded to the first prize winner of the annual BP Award.

14. Human Remains


Should human remains form any component of an artwork for potential acquisition, the Gallery will follow the DCMS guidelines, ‘Guidance for the care of human remains in museums’, issued in 2005. Should these remains prove to be less than 100 years old, the Gallery will obtain the necessary license under the Human Tissue Act, 2004, and any subordinate legislation from time to time in force.

15. Biological and geological material


The Gallery will not knowingly acquire by any direct or indirect means any object including an animal specimen that has been collected, sold, or otherwise transferred in contravention of any national or international wildlife protection or natural history law or treaty of the United Kingdom or any other country, unless with the express consent of an appropriate external authority.

16. Spoliation


The Gallery will be guided by the Holocaust Return of Cultural Objects Act (2009), which requires public collections to undertake provenance research during the period 1933-45 and make this information publically available on its website. The Gallery is also guided by Spoliation of Works of Art during the Holocaust and World War II period: Statement of Principles and Proposed Actions, issued by the National Museum Directors' Conference in 1998, and its 2016 renewal. The Gallery will also be guided by its own Collections Due Diligence Policy.


Should works in the Collection be subject to an enquiry or claim, the Gallery will follow the practices established by the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to extend research, make information available and, if appropriate, refer the case to the Spoliation Advisory Panel. The current status of spoliation research into the Collection is on the Gallery’s website.

17. Illicit Trade


In accordance with the provisions of the UNESCO 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, which the UK ratified with effect from 1 November 2002, and the Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Act 2003, the Gallery will reject any items that have been illicitly traded. The Trustees will be guided by the guidance on the responsible acquisition of cultural property issued by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport in 2005.

18. Archaeological material


The Gallery does not intend to acquire any archaeological material in the future.

19. Exceptions


Any exceptions to the above clauses will only be because the Gallery is either:

  • acting as an externally approved repository of last resort for material of local (UK) origin; or
  •  acting with the permission of authorities with the requisite jurisdiction in the country of origin.


In these cases the Gallery will be open and transparent in the way it makes decisions and will act only with the express consent of an appropriate outside authority. The Gallery will document when these exceptions occur.

20. The Repatriation and Restitution of objects and human remains


The Trustees, acting on the advice of the Chief Curator, if any, may take a decision to return human remains (unless covered by the ‘Guidance for the care of human remains in museums’ issued by DCMS in 2005), objects or specimens to a country or people of origin. The Gallery will take such decisions on a case-by-case basis; within its legal position and taking into account all ethical implications and available guidance. This will mean that the procedures described in 20.1 – 20.5 will be followed but the remaining procedures are not appropriate.

21. Disposal


All disposals will be undertaken with reference to the terms of this Policy and the SPECTRUM Primary Procedures on disposal. The procedures below apply to both accessioned and unaccessioned material.


The Trustees will confirm that they are legally free to dispose of an item.  The Head of Collections Services shall confirm this in writing before any further steps are taken. Agreements on disposal made with donors will also be taken into account. Cases where the donor has implied or expressed preference against disposal will be considered.


When disposal is motivated by curatorial reasons the procedures outlined below will be followed and the method of disposal may be by gift, sale, exchange or as a last resort - destruction.


The Curatorial Meeting will firstly recommend objects for disposal to the Director (except in cases outlined in 9.13 and 22.7). The decision to dispose of material from the Collection by any means will be taken by the Trustees only after full consideration of the reasons for disposal.

The Director, acting on advice from the Chief Curator and other colleagues as appropriate, shall outline the case to the Trustees; it shall not be on the basis of a curator acting alone. No fewer than ten Trustees must vote in favour of a recommendation on the proposed item(s) for de-accessioning, and to approve the recommended mode of disposal.

Other factors including public benefit, the implications for the Gallery's collections and collections held by galleries and other organisations collecting the same material or in related fields will be considered. Expert advice will be obtained when required and the views of all relevant stakeholders (including artists, donors, funding bodies, researchers, the Charity Commission, local and source communities, sitters, benefactors and others served by the Gallery) will also be sought.


When disposal of a museum object is being considered, the Gallery will establish if it was acquired with the aid of an external funding organisation. In such cases, any conditions attached to the original grant will be followed. This may include repayment of the original grant and a proportion of the proceeds if the item is disposed of by sale.


Once the decision to dispose of material in the Collection has been taken, priority will be given to retaining it within the public domain, unless it is to be destroyed. It will therefore be offered in the first instance, by transfer, gift, exchange or sale, directly to other Accredited Museums/Galleries or to institutions listed in Schedule 5 of the Museums and Galleries Act 1992. If the material is not acquired directly as a transfer, gift, and exchange or for sale, then the museum/gallery community at large will be advised of the intention to dispose of the material, normally through a notice on the MA's Find an Object web listing service; an announcement in the Museums Association's Museums Journal, and in other specialist journals where appropriate.


The announcement will indicate the number and nature of objects involved, and the basis on which the material will be transferred to another institution. Preference will be given to expressions of interest from other Accredited Museums/Galleries. A period of at least two months will be allowed for an interest in acquiring the material to be expressed. At the end of this period, if no expressions of interest have been received, the Gallery may consider disposing of the material elsewhere giving priority to organisations in the public domain.


Full records will be kept of all decisions on disposals and the material involved, including photographs where possible. Proper arrangements will be made for the preservation and/or transfer, as appropriate, of the documentation relating to the items concerned, including photographic records where practicable, in accordance with SPECTRUM Procedures on deaccession and disposal and the Museums Association’s Code of Ethics. The Gallery will retain copies of the acquisition documentation and the original documents will be passed to the new owner together with transfer of title documentation.


All items disposed of shall be recorded in the Gallery’s Annual Accounts.


The Gallery will only dispose of a work by sale or destruction in exceptional circumstances. (see section 23) This form of disposal would only be authorised by the Trustees on the written advice of the Gallery Curator responsible, the Chief Curator and one external advisor with art historical knowledge of the field.

In the cases of disposal by sale, any monies received by the Trustees from such disposals, less any grants repayable to an external funding organisation, will be applied to the purchase of objects for the Collection as laid down in the Museums and Galleries Act 1992. The proceeds of a sale will be ring-fenced so it can be demonstrated that they are spent as required by the Museums and Galleries Act 1992.


Serving Trustees, Honorary Officers, serving members of the Gallery Staff, Gallery volunteers, trainees, interns, contractors (unless on behalf of new owner or for secure destruction) or partners or business associates of any of the above will not be permitted to acquire, by purchase or otherwise, objects that have been de-accessioned or otherwise disposed of (if not formally accessioned) directly from the Gallery collections.

22. Disposal by exchange or other means


The nature of disposal by exchange means that the Gallery will not necessarily be in a position to exchange the material with another Accredited museum. The Trustees will therefore ensure that issues relating to accountability and impartiality are carefully considered to avoid undue influence on its decision-making process.


In cases where the Trustees wish for sound curatorial reasons to exchange material directly with Accredited or non-Accredited museums, with other organisations or with individuals, the procedures in paragraphs 20.2 to 20.6 will apply.


If the exchange is proposed to be made with a specific Accredited museum, other Accredited museums which collect in the same or related areas will be directly notified of the proposal and their comments will be requested.


If the exchange is proposed with a non-Accredited museum, with another type of organisation or with an individual, the museum will place a notice on the MA’s Find an Object web listing service, or make an announcement in the Museums Association’s Museums Journal or in other specialist publications and websites (if appropriate).


Both the notification and announcement must provide information on the number and nature of the specimens or objects involved both in the museum’s collection and those intended to be acquired in exchange. A period of at least two months must be allowed for comments to be received. At the end of this period, the Trustees must consider the comments before a final decision on the exchange is made.


If a work is to be returned to or exchanged with an original donor, a successful claimant(s) to legal title or funding organisation in accordance with any agreement, or if an exchange, which is judged by the Trustees to provide the greatest public benefit, is to be with another museum, organisation or individual, the Gallery will uphold its duty to openness and transparency and will make public any disposal decision made by the Trustees. This will be achieved by recording such action in the Gallery’s Annual Accounts.


When other components of the Gallery's works of art are replaced to ensure they are cared for to the best possible standard, such as historic components of frames etc., they shall be retained or reused wherever possible, not only for research purposes but also as an integral part of the object's history. However if the Gallery should decide that such components are disposed of, this shall be done in line with the Gallery's conservation recommendations and the other relevant disposal terms of this Policy. This shall not require Trustee approval and such approval on the disposal and replacement will be sought, where applicable, from the relevant curator. Trustees are informed, as appropriate, of all major conservation work carried out on the Collection.

23. Disposal by destruction


If it is not possible to dispose of an object through transfer or sale, the Trustees may decide to destroy it.


It is acceptable to destroy material of low intrinsic significance (duplicate mass-produced articles or common specimens which lack significant provenance) where no alternative method of disposal can be found.


Destruction is also an acceptable method of disposal in cases where an object is in extremely poor condition, has high associated health and safety risks or is part of an approved destructive testing request identified in the Gallery’s research policy.


Where necessary, specialist advice will be sought to establish the appropriate method of destruction. Health and Safety risk assessments will be carried out by the Head of Collections Services.


The destruction of objects will be witnessed by an appropriate member of staff. In circumstances where this is not possible, e.g. the destruction of controlled substances, a police certificate will be obtained and kept with the paperwork.

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