The National Gallery has confirmed that its 12-year funding relationship with Shell has ended after the Anglo-Dutch oil company decided not to renew its corporate membership earlier this year.

A statement from the gallery said: “Like many museums the gallery develops partnerships with businesses from a variety of sectors. Shell supported the National Gallery from 2006 until 2018, both as a sponsor and a corporate member.”

The National Gallery has been repeatedly targeted by campaigners over its links to the fossil fuel firm. The end of the relationship was confirmed after a Freedom of Information request made by campaigns and research organisation Culture Unstained.

The request revealed emails between Shell and the gallery which outlined the company was not renewing its corporate membership of the gallery ‘in order to focus on our work to inspire the next generation of engineers through our STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) education programmes’.

In a statement, Chris Garrard, co-director of Culture Unstained, said: “By ending its partnership with the National Gallery and shifting into science education, Shell is admitting that it was never a genuine philanthropist but a toxic company with an image to clean up.”

He added that it was “deeply concerning” that the National Gallery hadn’t “ended the partnership years ago on ethical grounds”. 

Garrard also criticised Shell’s move into supporting science-related events, singling out the company’s sponsorship of the current ‘Electricity: The spark of life’ exhibition at Manchester Museum of Science and Industry. Shell’s involvement has already led to three partners in the Manchester Science Festival pulling out in protest.

Clara Paillard, president of the culture group at the PCS union, said she was “delighted” that Shell has ended its corporate partnership with the National Gallery.

She added: “As the recent IPCC report has confirmed the urgency of tackling climate change within the next 12 years, fossil fuel companies have got no place in our public museums and should become persona non grata like tobacco companies.”

A Shell spokesperson told the Guardian: “The institutions we work with changes over time and while we are not currently working with the National Gallery, we are always open to doing so again in the future.”

In August, Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum ended its 18-year relationship with the firm, a move welcomed by the activist group Fossil Free Culture NL. In the same week, two other major Dutch museums also ended partnerships with the company.

The National Gallery, London. Photo: Mike PeelCC-BY-SA 4.0

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