Open main menu

TATE, Sir HENRY (1819–1899), first baronet, public benefactor, eldest son of William Tate of Chorley, Lancashire, by Agnes, daughter of Nathaniel Booth of Gildersoine, Yorkshire, was born at Chorley on 11 March 1819. Having started life as a grocer's assistant, he entered the firm of a large sugar-refiner in Liverpool, and soon rose to a position of responsibility. In 1872 an invention was brought to him which removed one of the great difficulties of the retail sugar trade. By an exceedingly simple process the invention cut up sugar-loaves into small pieces for domestic use. Tate at once recognised the usefulness of the invention, patented it, and laid the foundations of his fortune. In 1880 he migrated to London, very soon took a leading position in the Mincing Lane market, and developed his business until it assumed gigantic proportions and until 'Tate's cube sugar' became known all over the world. Tate's local benefactions kept pace with his fortune. He gave no less than 42,000l. to the newly founded University College of Liverpool (1881-2), and even larger sums to the various Liverpool hospitals, in addition to a large number of anonymous donations both to individuals and to charities. On becoming a resident at Streatham Common his bounty was extended to South London, where, among other donations, he gave (at a cost of 16,700l.) a handsome free library to Brixton, opened by King Edward VII, then prince of Wales, on 3 March 1893.

But Tate is remembered primarily for his munificent patronage of British art. He built a spacious gallery at Park Hill, Streatham, and adorned it with the best works by contemporary masters, conspicuously with the finest works of Millais, such as 'Ophelia,' 'The North- West Passage,' and ' The Vale of Rest.' Every year, just before the opening of the academy exhibition, he gave a dinner of the proportions of a banquet to the leading artists at his house. About 1890 he formed the design of presenting his collection of modern pictures to the National Gallery. Scruples having been raised as to the acceptance of such a collection en bloc, Tate approached the chancellor of the exchequer (Mr. Goschen) with an offer to erect a gallery of British art, and to present the nation with the bulk of his pictures as a nucleus for a permanent exhibition of modern British paintings, provided only that the government would find the site for such a building. Mr. Goschen accepted the offer, and made overtures, which were rejected by the City corporation, for acquiring a site upon the Blackfriars Embankment, after which but little energy was displayed in the discovery of a site until in 1893 Sir William Harcourt offered the ground upon which stood Millbank Prison, then about to be demolished. He also promised to maintain the gallery, and to place the foundation in the hands of the trustees of the National Gallery. The offer was gladly accepted by Tate. The gallery, reared at his expense, and designed by Mr. Sidney R. J. Smith in 'a free classic style' with a handsome Corinthian portico, was opened by King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra (then prince and princess of Wales) on 21 July 1897, Sir W. Harcourt and Mr. Arthur Balfour being present and making speeches, to which Tate replied. In the seven galleries that formed the original building were housed sixty-five pictures from Tate's collection, sixty-four pictures purchased under the bequest of Sir Francis Legatt Chantrey [q.v.], eighteen pictures presented by Mr. George Frederick Watts, R.A., and ninety-eight pictures from the modern portion of the National Gallery. The building was styled the National Gallery of British Art, but familiarly known as 'The Tate Gallery.' Predictions made as to the dampness of the site have happily proved unfounded; the building is light, the internal arrangements admirable in every way, and all that remains to be done is for the situation to be made more accessible. Tate was made a trustee of the National Gallery at the end of 1897, and was created a baronet on 27 June 1898. In the same year Sir Henry commenced the extension of the building, which he had promised to undertake in his speech at the opening of the gallery. The additions were completed on 27 Nov. 1899, when the accommodation was nearly doubled, and the value of Tate's gift to the nation raised to not far short of half a million. At the present time (December 1900) the gallery contains 344 paintings and drawings, in addition to twenty-seven pieces of sculpture, for which a very handsome gallery was provided in the new buildings. A seventh edition of the 'Catalogue' was issued by the keeper in October 1900. Several fine pictures were added to the collection by Tate as a supplement to the original 'Tate gift,' and 'The Childhood of Raleigh,' by M illais, was presented by Lady Tate shortly after his death, which took place at Streatham Hill after a long illness on 5 Dec. 1899. He married, first, on 1 March 1841, Jane, daughter of John Wignall, by whom he had, with other issue, Sir William Henry Tate (b. 23 Jan. 1842), the present baronet; secondly, on 8 Oct. 1885, Amy Fanny, only daughter of Charles Hislop of Brixton Hill, who survives him.

A speaking likeness of Sir Henry Tate is in the gallery which the nation owes to his munificence. It is a bronze bust by Mr. Thomas Brock, presented to the gallery by Sir William Agnew, Sir Edward Poynter, and other admirers in recognition of Tate's great service to British art. A photographic likeness forms the frontispiece to 'The Year's Art,' 1898. An oil portrait by Mr. Hubert Herkomer, in the possession of Lady Tate, has been engraved in mezzotint; the original is destined eventually to be placed in the Tate Gallery. A bust is in the library of the University College, Liverpool, which was built at his expense.

[Times, 21 July 1897, 28 Nov. 1899, 6 Dec. 1899; Athenæum, 9 Dec. 1899; Ann. Reg. 1899 [183]; Magazine of Art, November 1893. December 197, January 1900; Tate Gallery Illustrated Catalogue, 1897; Saturday Review, 9 Dec. 1899; Illustrated London News. 9 Dec. 1899 (portrait).]

T. S.