PDN can reveal that Penarth Town Council has engaged in secret discussions with the National Museum of Wales with a view to acquiring the Turner House Art Gallery in Plymouth Road.
It’s the latest development in Penarth Town Council’s low-profile long-term aim of returning control of the Turner Gallery to the people of Penarth – to whom the gallery and its contents were originally bequeathed.
Turner House was originally built by the Penarth art connoisseur James Pyke Thomson who bequeathed the art gallery and original Turner paintings which it contained (which are now worth many millions of pounds) to the people of Penarth to held in trust by the old Penarth Urban District Council and Pyke Thomson’s surviving brothers.
On October 17th 1921 however Penarth Urban District Council handed over the building to the National Museum of Wales – but continued pay for its maintenance from the council precept – extracted from local residents .
In April 2003 the National Museum leased the building to the publicly-funded photographic charity “Ffotogallery” as a photographic exhibition venue. Penarth’s original Turner paintings remain in storage – unseen – in the vaults of the National Museum.
The full saga of the Turner House bequest is told on http://tinyurl.com/qc2hjdl
In December 2016 Penarth Council let slip – probably by mistake – in a little-noticed document called “Vision Aims and Objectives 2017-2022″” that it was considering “taking control” of Turner House – but quite how this arrangement is to be funded was a mystery then – and still is.
The process is being managed not by a democratically open council-committee – but by the council’s secretive so-called “Strategic Review Group“ – the membership of which is not publicly declared and the minutes of which are not made public.
Now it’s understood that there have been formal meetings between the National Museum and the Town Council at which some sort of offer has been made by Penarth Town Council to take over the ownership/stewardship of the building from the National Museum of Wales (which itself is a “subsidiary” of the Welsh Assembly Government).
It’s envisaged that Ffotogallery would be allowed to remain in Turner House until March 2018 after which time Penarth Town Council could take control of the building. There is no mention as to whether the original Turner drawings and paintings would be returned to Penarth.
The Labour-run Penarth Town Council has elected not to take the townspeople of Penarth into its confidence, has sworn councillors to secrecy and has kept the whole Turner House acquisition project under wraps .
The approach made by the council to the National Museum has not been mentioned in any council or council committee meeting to which the general public has access.