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Henry Tate, the sugar magnate, gave the nation his art collection

Posted in Architecture, Art, Famous landmarks, Historical articles, History, London, Trade on Tuesday, 30 April 2013

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This edited article about Henry Tate originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 236 published on 23 July 1966.

Tate Gallery, picture, image, illustration

Tate Gallery

It was through lumps of sugar that London got its Tate Gallery, which was opened to the public on July 21, 1897.

In 1834, when 15-year-old Henry Tate started work in a Liverpool grocer’s shop, sugar was sold in either granular form or in large pieces weighing several pounds (one of these pieces was called a “loaf”). Tate realized that it would be much more convenient if people could buy their sugar in small lumps, each containing about as much sugar as a teaspoon would hold.

When he set up in business as a sugar refiner a few years later, Tate invented a machine for cutting sugar loaves into small cubes for household use. The idea proved tremendously popular and Tate made a huge fortune from the sale of his sugar lumps.

Tate believed that some, at least, of the wealth he had made from the public should be devoted to the public good. He built and equipped the Hahnemann Hospital in Liverpool, provided libraries for Liverpool and Manchester universities, and public libraries at Brixton, Streatham and Lambeth.

A life-long enthusiast for 19th-century art, Tate formed a collection of nearly 100 paintings by the outstanding artists of his day. In 1892, he offered his collection to the nation on condition that the government provided a site for a gallery to house them. He also promised £80,000 for the cost of building the gallery.

This offer was accepted and the Tate National Gallery of Modern Art was built on the banks of the Thames. Two years later, Tate doubled its accommodation at his own expense. Other benefactors added new galleries to the Tate, which now houses some 3,000 works by British painters and sculptors and about 500 by foreign artists.

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