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220 Artworks Go Missing from UK’s Houses of Parliament

According to authorities, a significant portion of the parliamentary art collection has either been mislaid or stolen

Image: William John MacLeod, Houses of Parliament, Burning of the Debating Chamber from Star Chamber Court, 1941. Courtesy: © the artist’s estate and Parliamentary Art Collection

William John MacLeod, Houses of Parliament, Burning of the Debating Chamber from Star Chamber Court, 1941.  Courtesy: © the artist’s estate and Parliamentary Art Collection

William John MacLeod, Houses of Parliament, Burning of the Debating Chamber from Star Chamber Court, 1941.  Courtesy: © the artist’s estate and Parliamentary Art Collection

The whereabouts of a vast number of paintings, etchings and prints belonging to the official collection of the UK’s Houses of Parliament, is unknown. According to The Times, a Freedom of Information request revealed that of the 9,000 works of art in the parliamentary collection, 224 are recorded as ‘missing’ in the official database.

Some of the missing works from the collection – which started to take form in 1841 and is jointly owned by the House of Commons and the House of Lords – include a 1941 wartime oil painting by William John MacLeod, Burning of the Debating Chamber from Star Chamber Court, an 1801 portrait of William Pitt the Younger by Robert Dighton and a sketch by the 20th-century English landscape artist John Stanton Ward.

The collection, which also includes hundreds of statues, tapestries and mosaics, is said to be worth over GB£10 million. Eighty percent is showcased throughout the Westminster buildings and the other 20 percent is reportedly kept in storage. Whether the missing artworks have been mislaid or stolen is unclear; according to the Freedom of Information response, the unreliable ‘missing’ tag dates back to the 1980s.

Officials are hoping that the multi-billion-pound restoration project that the Palace of Westminster is currently undergoing in order to preserve the building will help them locate the lost works. ‘The restoration and renewal programme is an important opportunity for the Parliamentary art collection to be reviewed in detail so that historic cataloguing errors can be resolved and good documentation practice going forward can be ensured,’ a statement from the Houses of Parliament added.

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