The Art Fund at Millais House

  • 10 February 2014

After more than 20 years based in Millais House, the Art Fund has moved to new premises in King's Cross. We look back on our time spent in the building that John Everett Millais and Francis Bacon called home.

Based in London's South Kensington, 7 Cromwell Place is a Victorian terrace with a rare cultural heritage. Situated a stone's throw from 'Albertopolis' – the London thoroughfare that plays host to the Natural History Museum, Science Museum and the V&A – the building has been home to some of Britain's greatest artists.

In a history of the building's former inhabitants, the great German-born photographer Emil Otto Hoppé is almost as a footnote, eclipsed by the achievements of its two most celebrated residents, each of whom could claim in their lifetime to be the most important artist working in England.

In 1862, the Pre-Raphaelite painter John Everett Millais moved into 7 Cromwell Place with his wife Effie (whose previous marriage to John Ruskin was infamously annulled) and eight children, living there until the late 1870s. The building not only served as his home, and a social hub for the Pre-Raphaelite movement, but also as his studio – Cromwell Place was the birthplace of some of Victorian Britain's greatest works of art.

Almost a century later, the building would be brought back into action as a studio of one of Britain's most significant painters. In 1943, the Irish-born painter Francis Bacon took the ground floor of 7 Cromwell Place with his patron and partner Eric Hall. Bacon converted the large, disused billiard room at the rear of the building into his studio, which doubled up as a venue for his illicit roulette parties – a useful secondary income for the artist.

On 29 March 1993, the National Art Collections Fund completed the purchase of Millais House. ‘By the time the National Art Collections Fund purchased Millais House in 1992, it was sadly neglected and in urgent need of repair and restoration', wrote Alyson Wilson in Art Quarterly. 'Michael Manser was entrusted with the challenging task of adapting the historic building to the requirements of a modern office, while ensuring that its essential character was retained. This has been achieved with enviable style and sensitivity. Once again the building is buzzing with activity and, as in the past, the studio is the hub.'

For two decades, the studio served as the Art Fund's boardroom, playing host to some of the country's greatest paintings, while they were under consideration for grants; from The Blue Rigi by Turner to Constable's Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows – both of which were saved for the nation following public appeals from the Art Fund. One of the most dramatic installations was a two-metre kinetic sculpture by Martin Boyce, which was displayed suspended from the ceiling.

While the Art Fund has moved on to new premises, its time spent in Millais House has left a timeless legacy to the nation: between officially moving into Millais House in 1994 and leaving for King's Cross in 2014, the Art Fund awarded over 2,500 grants worth more than £72m to British museums and galleries.

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