National Gallery

12 October 1940

By Joseph Torregrossa

The National Gallery - built in 1838 and overlooking Trafalgar Square WC2 - was damaged by high explosive bombs and incendiaries nine times during 1940-1941. Two of these incidents were particularly destructive.

Ten days before the outbreak of war on 3 September 1939, all of the Gallery's most valuable works of art - including many Old Masters - were moved to safe places throughout England or to storage in an abandoned slate mine and caves in North Wales.

Even with the constant threat of bombardment, the Gallery - under the Directorship of Kenneth Clark - remained open to visitors throughout the war. From 10 October 1940 the Gallery ran highly popular lunchtime concerts and recitals (most famously by celebrity concert pianist Myra Hess) in its Octagonal Room. War Art exhibitions were also held in the Gallery for Londoners and servicemen on leave. The Gallery in wartime was evocatively depicted in the short film 'Listen to Britain' (directed by Humphrey Jennings, Crown Film Unit, 1942).

On 12 October 1940 a high explosive bomb fell on the central galleries, destroying Room 10, which had housed Dutch School paintings before the war. This bomb also severed a water pipe, flooding the basement, which in turn damaged several paintings stored there. No casualties were reported.

Another incident took place on 17 October 1940, when an unexploded high explosive bomb was discovered lying in the inner courtyard. Whilst the bomb was being cleared on 23 October - a concert was in progress and the disposal crew were on their lunch hour in the nearby Gallery canteen - the bomb exploded. There were no casualties.

Further damage to the National Gallery occurred on the early morning of 16 November 1940 after three small high explosive bombs detonated nearby. A gap was torn in the Gallery roof, smashing every pane of glass, blackening the exterior facing St Martin's Place and ripping off parts of its stone facade. Damage was reported on the east side of the gallery and rubble was piled in a courtyard in the East Wing and in a garden.

Photo:The National Gallery

The National Gallery

Copyright Westminster City Archives

Photo:National Gallery and Trafalgar Square

National Gallery and Trafalgar Square

Copyright Westminster City Archives

Photo:Incident report No 652, National Gallery damage, 12 October 1940

Incident report No 652, National Gallery damage, 12 October 1940

Copyright Westminster City Archives

Photo:Incident report No. 795, National Gallery, 18 October 1940

Incident report No. 795, National Gallery, 18 October 1940

Copyright Westminster City Archives

Photo:Incident report No. 795, National Gallery. Note updates when bomb detonated on 23 October 1940

Incident report No. 795, National Gallery. Note updates when bomb detonated on 23 October 1940

Copyright City of Westminster Archives

Photo:Incident report, National Gallery, 16 November 1940

Incident report, National Gallery, 16 November 1940

Copyright Westminster City Archives

Photo:The National Gallery (night view from Trafalgar Square)

The National Gallery (night view from Trafalgar Square)

Copyright Westminster City Archives

Photo:Bomb Map: National Gallery

Bomb Map: National Gallery

Copyright Westminster City Archives

National Gallery WC2

This page was added by Joseph Torregrossa on 24/04/2012.

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