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The collection opened in 1814 in Britain's first purpose-built public gallery, the Dulwich Picture Gallery.
The Scottish dealer William Buchanan and the collector Joseph Count Truchsess, both formed art collections expressly as the basis for a future national collection, but their respective offers (both made in 1803) were also declined.
Unlike comparable museums in continental Europe, the National Gallery was not formed by nationalising an existing royal or princely art collection.
It came into being when the British government bought 38 paintings from the heirs of John Julius Angerstein in 1824.
The Bavarian royal collection (now in the Alte Pinakothek, Munich) opened to the public in 1779, that of the Medici in Florence around 1789 (as the Uffizi Gallery), and the Museum Français at the Louvre was formed out of the former French royal collection in 1793.
Its collection belongs to the government on behalf of the British public, and entry to the main collection is free of charge.
It is among the most visited art museums in the world, after the Louvre, the British Museum, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Initially the Keeper of Paintings, William Seguier, bore the burden of managing the Gallery, but in July 1824 some of this responsibility fell to the newly formed board of trustees.
The National Gallery at Pall Mall was frequently overcrowded and hot and its diminutive size in comparison with the Louvre in Paris was a cause of national embarrassment. 105 Pall Mall, which the novelist Anthony Trollope described as a "dingy, dull, narrow house, ill-adapted for the exhibition of the treasures it held".
Following the Walpole sale many artists, including James Barry and John Flaxman, had made renewed calls for the establishment of a National Gallery, arguing that a British school of painting could only flourish if it had access to the canon of European painting.