The history of the Tate Gallery highlights a century of woeful underfunding of the arts in Britain. Built largely thanks to the philanthropy of a Liverpool sugar magnate, Sir Henry Tate, the National Gallery of British Art opened its doors in 1897. Immediately referred to by its benefactor's name, it came under the auspices of the National Gallery, which seemed to use it as a dustbin for any paintings it deemed unsuitable. Within 20 years it had gained a new responsibility, modern foreign art, but this did not bring with it a new radicalism; no Cézanne was acquired until 1933, and the first Cubist Picassos were bought only in 1949.
The stories of missed buying opportunities make one wince, with the benefit of hindsight. The last 30 years have seen it finally catch its breath, with a succession of well-received exhibitions, the opening of satellite Tates in St Ives and Liverpool, and the creation of the Turner Prize. The future looks fittingly bright, too, with the planned Museum Of Modern Art on Bankside. The mood of repression which remained long after Millbank Penitentiary was demolished would seem to have lifted.
Frances Spalding is an experienced art historian and critic. The fact that this book is published by Tate Gallery Publishing has allowed her unprecedented access to archives and personnel, but perhaps also clipped her wings. However, despite a certain insularity, the detail is considerable, her observation wry, and as an account of arts administration in Britain it is to be thoroughly recommended. --David Vincent