The modern Guildhall Art Gallery opened in 1999. It’s a place I’ve always enjoyed visiting, whether on an opportunistic pop-in basis or for special exhibitions. To mark its fifteenth anniversary, the gallery has just undergone a comprehensive rehang and general update which has included a brand new LED lighting system and reclamation of wall space through the installation of false walls in the main upstairs space.
This houses the Victorian paintings which are now rearranged thematically: beauty, faith, leisure, love, work, the home, and so on. More than this, the themes are arranged in pairs in a dichotomous fashion, e.g. Leisure and Work. This may seem quite an obvious thing to do, but a lot of thought has gone into this. A lot. I can’t explain it particularly well, it’s something you have to appreciate with your own eyes, but the result is delightful and gives the viewer a real sense of Victorian lives and living.
Downstairs to the London space, which spans 400 years, the earliest image on display being a portrait of one of the “fire judges” from 1667. This is just one of the 22 originally commissioned. The curators have cleverly arranged the pictures so that each successive image is linked in some way. There are two arrangements which I found especially pleasing. At one end of the main gallery, the wall next to the stairs features five pictures of London’s historic markets, including Smithfield and Billingsgate. And then there are three images which feature old London Bridge, its successor and the two of them together during construction. Below are my not very good snaps, but you get the idea. Lovers of London’s bridges (that’s all of us, right?) cannot but be charmed by this trio.
The new hang is thoughtful and thought-provoking without being showy or over-clever. Principal Curator Lucia Dudkiewicz and her team have succeeded in breathing new life into an already wonderful collection. £600,000 once every 15 years for this purpose seems to me a canny investment.
The Guildhall Art Gallery is open seven days a week. Entry is free.
The gallery’s special exhibition celebrating the 120th anniversary of Tower Bridge is still running: don’t miss it. Our review.