Guildhall Art Gallery
By Francesca Fenn, Jun 4 2019 07:09PM
The small museum we’re visiting today is the Guildhall Art Gallery. The Guildhall itself is well known –it stands at the end of King Street in the City of London, in the Guildhall courtyard. It is a delicate medieval building, and one of only a few to escape the Great Fire of 1666. You can tour Guildhall, the scene of many a Lord Mayor’s banquet, and home to Gog and Magog, 3 metre giants who are traditional guardians of the City of London. But that’s for another blog – it’s the art gallery’s turn today!
Guildhall Art Gallery stands to the right of Guildhall, on the courtyard. Opened in 1885 to display both Victorian paintings and paintings of London, the original building was destroyed in the Blitz, as were some of the works of art, although I’m pleased to say that many more were kept safely hidden away throughout the conflict. Construction of the current gallery started in the 1980s, but took longer than anticipated because in digging foundations, London’s Roman amphitheatre was discovered! It was excavated, and part of it is incorporated into the new building, which was finally opened in 1999.
So now the gallery offers three main areas to enjoy. Firstly, as mentioned above, there is the Roman amphitheatre, deep down in the bowels of the building. Mock-up figures and sound effects give an idea of what it was like to go to an event there, and whilst it is a wee bit dated, it still gives a great sense of the ancient origins of London. The outline of the rest of the amphitheatre is traced with a black line outside on the courtyard.
The second area is down in the undercroft, which houses a fabulous collection of paintings of London, both historic and contemporary. Some areas have hardly changed, and it is very satisfying to see buildings and streets we know and love as they were hundreds of years ago. I also love some of the very modern work which gives a great sense of the atmosphere of London. There are more works in the collection than there is space to display them, so paintings are rotated. It is worth revisiting at intervals of a few months.
Upstairs is the display of Victorian Art, the third part of the gallery. Guildhall Art Gallery is particularly rich in this genre, and the space is filled with superb and delightful paintings. Two of my favourites are the pair of pictures by Sir John Evert Millais entitled ‘My First Sermon’ and ‘My Second Sermon’. Spot the difference! But there are many others to delight both eye and intellect.
If you’d like to make your visit to Guildhall Art Gallery a part of a whole day of cost-free exploration of the City of London, London’s Splendid Square Mile is just what you need! I’m delighted to say that adults seem to be using this book as much as families, and are loving its itinerary. We hope you will too. Take a look and see here.
Guildhall Art Gallery is open seven days a week: Monday to Saturday 10.00am – 5.00pm, Sundays 12 noon to 4.00pm. Admission is free, except for special exhibitions from time to time. (A temporary exhibition entitled ‘Architecture of London’ is opening as I write this – a must see for me!) There is an excellent free booklet available near the entrance entitled 'Guildhall Galleries - where London Began',
We are so lucky to have this wealth of small museums dotted around our capital - let's enjoy them!