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National Portrait Gallery will not take £1m Sackler donation for Fobert and Purcell revamp

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The National Portrait Gallery will no longer take a £1 million Sackler Trust donation for its major Jamie Fobert-designed revamp following protests over the philanthropic body’s links to the US opioid crisis

The gallery said on Tuesday that it had jointly agreed with the Sackler Trust it would ‘not proceed at this time’ with the donor’s 2016 pledge to help fund its £35.5 million Inspiring People revamp.

The Sacklers withdrew the gift amid controversy over the family firm Purdue Pharma’s manufacture of the OxyContin opioid painkiller. Some members of the family are facing lawsuits in the US over the marketing of the drug.

The family said while it ‘vigorously denied’ the allegations, it was dropping the donation to avoid creating a ‘distraction’ from the hard work the institution had put into the initiative.

Gallery chief David Ross said: ‘As chair of the National Portrait Gallery, I acknowledge the generosity of the Sackler family and their support of the arts over the years. We understand and support their decision not to proceed at this time with the donation to the gallery.’

Jamie Fobert Architects, working with heritage specialist Purcell, unveiled its proposals in January for the largest development at the Trafalgar Square gallery since it opened in 1896.

At the unveiling, the gallery also launched a public appeal to drum up funds for the project by the end of March. It confirmed that without the Sackler Trust pledge the gallery has so far raised £29.1 million towards the revamp, with the Heritage Lottery Fund allocating £9.4 million to the scheme last summer. 

It said it hoped to have all the funds in place this spring.

Campaigners have welcomed the gallery’s decision – the first time a major UK arts body has publicly said it will not go ahead with a Sackler donation – as a landmark victory in the battle over the ethics of art funding.

Museums have faced increasing pressure from many leading figures in the art world over their acceptance of money from the Sackler family.

US photographer Nan Goldin has led protests in New York against Sackler donations to arts bodies, and last year told The Observer: ’I have been invited to have a retrospective at the National Portrait Gallery and I have told them I would not do it if they take the Sackler money.’

A statement from the Sackler Trust said: ‘The giving philosophy of the family has always been to actively support institutions while never getting in the way of their mission.

‘It has become evident that recent reporting of allegations made against Sackler family members may cause this new donation to deflect the National Portrait Gallery from its important work.

‘The allegations against family members are vigorously denied, but to avoid being a distraction for the [gallery], we have decided not to proceed at this time with the donation.’

The Inspiring People overhaul will increase public gallery space by about 20 per cent, with the East Wing, part of the original building, brought back into use as the new Weston Wing.

It also includes the creation of a ‘more welcome and generous’ entrance and forecourt on the gallery’s north façade and a complete reinterpretation of the gallery’s collection across 40 refurbished spaces and a new learning centre. 

Fobert and Purcell won a competition for the cultural project in February 2018.

The AJ understands that other practices in the running for the job included David Adjaye, OMA, Farshid Moussavi, 6a, Caruso St John and Haworth Tompkins.

Npg proposed section jamie fobert architects resave

Npg proposed section jamie fobert architects resave

Section through galleries, new entrance hall and forecourt 

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