When Tate first opened its doors to the public in 1897 it had just one site, displaying a small collection of British artworks. Today we have four major sites and the national collection of British art from 1500 to the present day and international modern and contemporary art, which includes nearly 70,000 artworks.

Henry Tate

Sir Hubert Von Herkomer
Sir Henry Tate (1897)

In 1889 Henry Tate, an industrialist who had made his fortune as a sugar refiner, offered his collection of British nineteenth-century art to the nation and provided funding for the first Tate Gallery.

Tate was a great patron of Pre-Raphaelite artists and his bequest of 65 paintings to the National Gallery included John Everett Millais’ Ophelia 1851–2 and J.W.Waterhouse’s The Lady of Shalott 1888. The bequest was turned down by the trustees because there was not enough space in the gallery.

A campaign was begun to create a new gallery dedicated to British art. With the help of an £80,000 donation from Tate himself, the gallery at Millbank, now known as Tate Britain, was built and opened in 1897. Tate’s original bequest of works, together with works from the National Gallery, formed the founding collection.

Henry Tate and Slavery

Over the years there has been much debate about Henry Tate’s association with slavery. As we reflect on this important question, we have invited the historical researchers at the Centre for the Study of the Legacies of British Slave-ownership at University College London to share their analysis. We have worked with them on a statement regarding what we know about the historical facts and some of the questions which remain unanswered.

Duveen family

Emil Fuchs
Sir Joseph Duveen (1903)

The arts and antiques dealers Sir Joseph Joel Duveen (1843–1908) and his son Lord Joseph Duveen (1869–1939) made significant financial contributions to the original gallery at Millbank. With their support, large extensions were added to the gallery including seven new rooms to display the Turner Bequest in 1910 and the Duveen Sculpture Galleries, the first galleries built specifically for sculpture in England.

Tate Members

Tate Members was founded in 1957 as the Friends of the Tate Gallery to raise money to buy artworks and to support and promote the work of the gallery.

Their fundraising work has made possible the purchase of nearly 400 masterpieces for the gallery, including such notable works as Henry Moore’s King and Queen, Henri Matisse’s The Snail, and Pablo Picasso’s Weeping Woman.

The Galleries

The Directors

Charles Holroyd

Keeper, 1897–1906

Holroyd was an artist and scholar and member of the Royal Society of Painter-Etchers. His chief contribution to Tate was the formation of a collection of work by Alfred Stevens, the painter, sculptor and designer who created the Wellington Monument in St Paul’s Cathedral. On leaving the Tate, Holroyd went on to become Director of the National Gallery.

D.S. MacColl

Keeper, 1906–1911

MacColl was perhaps an unlikely choice in that he was known for his open criticism of the art establishment, including Henry Tate’s collection. However his willingness to stand up for his beliefs made him invaluable to Tate. He improved the collection on many fronts: re-hanging the galleries, strengthening the holdings of Pre-Raphaelite work and paving the way for desirable additions to the collection.

Charles Aitken

Director, 1911–1930

In his previous role as Director of the Whitechapel Gallery, Charles Aitken had been dedicated to making art accessible to the ordinary people of London. As Director of Tate, his able administration helped the cash-strapped gallery gain strength through charging an entrance fee. He further improved the collection using money raised to fund new aquisitions; the most notable being William Blake’s illustrations to Dante’s ‘Divine Comedy’.

J.B. Manson

Director, 1930–1938

Although there were some improvements during his Directorship such as the 1932 adoption of Tate Gallery as its official name and the installation of electric lights in 1935, Manson's dislike of modern art meant that a number of important works of modern art were turned down by the Tate.

Sir John Rothenstein

Director, 1938–1964

Rothenstein’s role was pivotal in ‘dragging the British art world screaming and kicking into the twentieth century’. When he became Director in 1938 the collection did not successfully represent contemporary British art. Rothenstein added works by modern British artists including Stanley Spencer, Henry Moore, Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud. He also aquired important works by Picasso and Matisse, as well as notable American abstract artists.

Sir Norman Reid

Director, 1964–1979

Reid strengthened the collection, particularly for early twentieth-century European art, acquiring works by Brancusi, Mondrian and Dalí. Reid's strong personal relationships with artists led to a number of important donations to Tate, including Rothko’s Seagram murals, and works by Hepworth, Ben Nicholson, Naum Gabo and Henry Moore. During his Directorship, the North East Quadrant expansion was completed in 1979, vastly increasing the exhibition space at the Millbank site.

Sir Alan Bowness

Director, 1980–1988

Alan Bowness’ directorship saw the creation of Tate Liverpool and the Clore Gallery at Millbank. He also paved the way for the creation of Tate St Ives by forming links with the Cornish town through taking over the management of the Barbara Hepworth Museum in 1980. Meanwhile, his acquisition of Surrealist and American artworks greatly strengthened the collection.

Sir Nicholas Serota

Director, 1988–31 May 2017

Nicholas Serota was appointed Director of the Tate in 1988. An art historian and curator, he was previously Director of the Museum of Modern Art, Oxford and the Whitechapel Art Gallery. Under his Directorship Tate has seen a dramatic period of expansion. Tate St Ives was opened in 1993, followed by Tate Modern in 2000 and the redevelopment and re-launch of the original Millbank gallery as Tate Britain, to emphasise the nature of the collection displays and exhibitions at each site.

Maria Balshaw

Director, 1 June 2017–present

Maria Balshaw was formerly the Director of the Whitworth Art Gallery (University of Manchester) and Manchester City Galleries, and Director of Culture for Manchester City Council.