Visitors to the National Gallery and the neighbouring National Portrait Gallery (NPG) in London have dropped off dramatically last year. This has raised concerns within the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, which is “working closely” with the museums “to better understand the recent decline”, according to a spokeswoman.

The National Gallery had 6.3 million visitors in 2016, but this fell to 5.2 million last year, a drop of 17%. The NPG did much worse, with numbers decreasing from 1.9 million to 1.3 million—a fall of 35%. The data for May to December 2017, as reported in the Times newspaper, presented an even more dismal picture, with a decline for the NPG of 42%.

Although these two institutions suffered the largest decreases, visitors to the British Museum fell by 8%. Tate Modern was stable, however, and Tate Britain’s total rose by an impressive 64%, boosted by its David Hockney exhibition, although from a fairly low base, since visitor numbers have been stagnant in recent years.

The number of visitors to the Victoria and Albert Museum increased by 26%, again helped by a single exhibition (about the British band Pink Floyd), emphasising the importance of blockbusters in attracting visitors.

So why have the Trafalgar Square galleries fared so badly? Fear of terrorism might have discouraged visitors, following the Westminster Bridge, Finsbury Park and London Bridge attacks in March and June 2017, but these atrocities took place across London and might have been expected to have affected all venues in the capital. Read more