Thomas Bodkin, Director 1927 - 1935

Thomas Bodkin, NGI Director 1927-1935 (Portrait by James Sleator, 1889-1950, NGI.4084)

Thomas Patrick Bodkin (1887–1961) became Director in 1927. A Board member from 1917, he had aspirations for the directorship since Lane’s death. He took to the role with relish, and in his first year he proudly declared that the Gallery had ‘one of the great collections of Europe; one of the finest of its size – there is no better collection in the world’. 

Bodkin started the job with a re-hang of the collection, making radical changes to how the artworks were displayed.  He wrote to Sir Alec Martin, Board member, in November 1929, ‘I have re-hung the Gallery almost entirely. It was a frightful job and I am dead beat, but I am longing to show it to you as I trust you will find it much improved… feeling desperately tired, and am working from morning to night.’ Bodkin favoured the tiered hanging style (also known as the Salon style) because it allowed for the display of more of the collection than the linear style, as well as highlighting the lack of hanging space in the Gallery.

Bodkin’s acquisitions as Director included works by Zurbarán, Pieter Breughel the Younger, Delacroix and Perugino. He worked hard to advance the collection, and in the 1932 catalogue declared that, ‘Every great school of European art is adequately represented.’ Despite these achievements, he found his dealings with Government officials disheartening as the Gallery continued to be neglected. His annual reports outline the difficulties the Gallery faced: lack of staff and low salaries; inadequate storage conditions and limited space for the collections; and in relation to funding, the Gallery was receiving less than it had under the British Administration.  Bodkin departed in 1935 to take up the directorship of the newly-founded Barber Institute, and professorship of Fine Art in the University of Birmingham.