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Posts Tagged ‘Guildhall Art Gallery’

Yesterday I went along to three exhibitions by City of London institutions which opened recently. All are well worth visiting; all are free.

Guildhall Art Gallery: Sublime Symmetry
This exhibition features the works of William De Morgan, the late 19th century London ceramicist, friend and collaborator of William Morris, GF Watts and many others. We are long-standing fans of De Morgan. The closure of a dedicated gallery in Wandsworth some years ago tragically meant that a huge collection of his work, which is owned by the De Morgan Foundation, has been kept behind closed doors. It’s important therefore to do all you can to get to this show. The theme is De Morgan’s background in mathematics, how that meshed with his interest in Islamic symmetical forms and from there informed his decorative work. The artist’s father and brother were both celebrated mathemeticians. Augustus De Morgan was the founding Professor of Mathematics at UCL, friend and correspondent of Ada Lovelace among others, and clearly a warm and funny character. It felt good to meet him. But of course, the stars of the show are De Morgan’s sumptuous, exquisite works. Vases, bowls, dishes, tiles all beautifully decorated with figures from nature and myth.
This runs until 28 October.

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Guildhall Library: Worshipful Company of Tylers and Bricklayers
More a display than a full blown exhibition, this is the latest in the library’ series which features the City’s livery companies. This year celebrates the 450th anniversary of this company’s first Charter, granted by Elizabeth I 1568, although the company can trace its origins back to 1416. We are shown many objects from its collection, well complemented by items from the library as well. This includes probably my favourite, the so-called “Breeches” Bible from 1589, which was used for the administration of oaths. It is, of course, a late generation English bible before the advent of the Authorised Version (1611) and furhermore is the only example of a chained book in the library’s collection.  In addition we have a trowel (of course), ledgers, ordnances and minute books, a loving cup and a portrait miniature of its most famous member, the playwright Ben Jonson who was a bricklayer before he made it big in the London theatre.
Runs until 31 August.

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The ‘Breeches’ Bible, 1598.

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Ben Jonson’s overdue subscription recorded as paid.

London Metropolitan Archives: Picturing Forgotten London
What I love about the LMA exhibitions – and this one is no exception – is that you see historical images that you’ve never seen before. Not one. This is remarkable considering the hundreds of London history books out there, not to mention what’s online. To choose one example, I thought I’d seen everything on frost fairs: not so!

The headline title is a broad topic indeed which features not forgotten London necessarily, but a London which simply no longer exists, whether the obvious things such a buildings, but also professions, animals, forms of government, everyday life, religion, commerce, housing, transport, technology, sport, food and welfare. The images which bring these themes to life – whether maps, engravings or photographs – are clearly heavily researched astutely chosen.

Warmly recommended. Runs until 31 August.

© London Met Archives 28160 Frost Fair low_500

London’s last frost fair, 1814.

By the time this print was published, just few days later, the ice had melted, and the fair gone forever. London Bridge can be seen in the distance.

© London Met Archives 32422 Archway low_500

Rural Archway, 1841.

A winding lane with barns and a farmhouse. It is hard to imagine London’s built-up suburbs as open country but the last farms in the area only disappeared in the early twentieth century.

© London Met Archives 305674 St Pancras low_500

Commercial warehousing, buildings and shops in front of St Pancras Station, 1871.

St. Pancras station opened in 1868 but the hotel and grand entrance were not completed until 1876. Older buildings were demolished as part of the project, including this row of houses and shops which stood nearby. It’s hard to imagine this picturesque scene on one of the busiest parts of Euston Road today.

© London Met Archives 233962 Skylon_500

South Bank, 1952. Featuring County Hall and the Skylon.

This seemingly free-floating steel structure stood outside the Dome of Discovery on the main Festival of Britain site on the South Bank. With no particular function or message, ‘Skylon’ was nonetheless much loved. It was removed shortly after the closing of the Festival.

 

 

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The most famous of London’s many bridges celebrates its 120th birthday this year. Horace Jones’s masterwork was opened by the Prince of Wales on 30 June 1894, nine years after the Act of Parliament was passed to bring it into being.

To mark the occasion, the Guildhall Art Gallery has just launched an exhibition of representations of Tower Bridge down the years. Like Sir Charles Barry and others before him, Jones didn’t live to see the completion of his most prestigious project. He is remembered here at the entrance to the show with his most famous portrait along with that of his engineer, John Wolf Barry, son of Sir Charles himself.

Tower Bridge, Guildhall Art Gallery

Charles Pears (1873-1958), Blitz. Our London Docks, 1940, oil on canvas. Guildhall Art Gallery, City of London.

After this, the bridge itself is the only star. There are many dozens of depictions spanning over a century. They include water colours, oils, pencil drawings, and photographs. Most notable of the latter are an amazing survival from the early 1890s of the bridge being built and we are reminded that for all appearances, this is a steel bridge with cladding. There are also fine engineering plans of the towers, along with ephemera relating Tower Bridge’s earliest days: invitations and programmes for the opening and even for the laying of the foundation stone. Incredibly elaborate items where Union flags abound. This was, after all, to be the new front door of  the capital of the world’s greatest power at its mightiest.

But by far the biggest element of the show are the paintings. They are in a multitude of media, taken from every viewpoint: the pool of London; Wapping; Rotherhithe; and at least one from the bridge itself. The London skyline, an evocative addition to any landscape features varyingly. But there is another star of the show: it is, of course, the Thames. And with the Thames come boats and boatmen. All subject matter that is a gift to the painter: if you think about it, nothing possibly can go wrong for any artist. There was only one picture I thought was not particularly good, but even it looked delightful thanks to a quite nice tugboat centre stage: it was very much the exception.

So an exhibition featuring images of the most photogenic (and yes, there are old photos too) bridge in the world is hardly going to struggle. But they still have to be sourced, chosen and displayed in a coherent way, and variety here is key. Moody here, frivolous there; the highly detailed rubs shoulders with the broad brush approach. The arranging is broadly chronological without being slavishly so.  The gallery and curator have got this all completely right and the result is delightful. You’d be mad not to go: entrance is free.

120 Years of Tower Bridge (1894-2014) runs from 31 May – 30 June, so not particularly long.

Tower Bridge, Guildhall Art Gallery

William Lionel Wyllie (1851-1931), The Opening Ceremony of the Tower Bridge, 1894-5, oil on canvas.
Guildhall Art Gallery, City of London.

Tower Bridge. Guildhall Art Gallery.

Frank William Brangwyn ARA (1867ÔÇô1956), The Tower Bridge, about 1905, oil on canvas.
Guildhall Art Gallery, City of London.

Tower Bridge, Guildhall Art Gallery

James Page-Roberts (b. 1925), Self-Portrait with Tower Bridge, 1965, oil on canvas. Copyright The Artist.

Tower Bridge, Guildhall Art Gallery.

Judith Evans and Arthur Watson (b. 1949, b. 1946), The Spirit of London, 1981, oil on canvas.
Guildhall Art Gallery, City of London.

Tower Bridge, Guildhall Art Gallery

Mentor Chico (b. 1963), Forever Imagical Tower Bridge 2014, 2014, oil on canvas, copyright The Artist

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1 It’s free!

2. Guildhall Yard. It wears both its modernity and antiquity very lightly. Two ancient structures – St Lawrence Jewry and the Guildhall itself – counterbalanced by the modern Guildhall Library and Guildhall Art Gallery, both late 20C. Integrated one with the other deliciously, architectural practice at its most sympathetic and very best. Then there is the pavement which incorporates the gentle curve marking the outline of the ancient Roman amphitheatre twenty feet or so below.

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Guildhall and Art Gallery

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St Lawrence Jewry

3 Staff. You’ll come across security who scan your bag inside the front door; someone on the front desk, and the two ladies (usually it’s ladies) who run the cloakroom downstairs. Always smiley, always friendly, always welcoming. Archivists and librarians ditto.

4 The Great Hall. A massive 15C late-gothic space containing monumental statuary commemorating Nelson, Wellington, both Pitts, plus huge statues of London’s legendary founding giants, Gog and Magog. It’s not always obvious whether it’s open, hence we had the place entirely to ourself one weekend last year. Do check!

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5 The art. A very mixed bag, and something for everybody. In the main spaces at ground floor and mezzanine level there are many Victorian genre paintings and notable Pre-raphaelite stuff. But I rather like the London landscape paintings and big parades (Lord Mayor’s Show, Queen Victoria’s jubilee, etc). We use the gorgeous Blackfriars Bridge and St Paul’s by William Marlowe on the London Historian Members’ card. But special mention must go to…

6 … the massive The Defeat of the Floating Batteries at Gibraltar, September 1782 by the American artist John Singleton Copley. One of the largest oil paintings in the country, the picture was commissioned by the City of London in 1783. It’s actually a multiple portrait picture featuring the main players on the British side, made out as a battle scene. Its home in the gallery today is a bespoke space that was worked in to the design of the building.

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7 George Dance the Younger. On his father’s death, George junior took over the role of surveyor for the City of London aged just 27. He designed dozens of significant London buildings, the vast majority of which no longer exist. Probably the most significant is the Guidlhall’s facade and front door. So elegant. It reminds me a lot of the fine old London city gates, demolished by his own father in 1760. Irony.

8 The Roman Amphitheatre. When you look at old models or illustrations of Roman London (there is a rather nice example in the Crypt Museum at St Hallows by the Tower), there is always a glaring omission: the amphitheatre. That’s because it was only discovered in the 1990s when archaeologists were having a bit of a sniff around prior to the construction of the art gallery. It is directly underneath Guildhall Yard. Except for ancient history purists, our Roman bits are far from spectacular, but the City has made a noble attempt to make a silk purse from a sow’s ear, and I understand there is a big makeover in the pipeline.

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9 Tradition. There are all sorts of grand dinners to which we lesser types are not party. Men (mainly) in Livery, Chains of Office, plumed hats, at the very least swanky white tie, their good ladies in tow. There are public ones, though, that take place in Guildhall Yard. My favourite it the Cart Marking Ceremony which happens in July.  Also the livery companies compete with one another on Shrove Tuesday in pancake races. Quite new, that one, but all traditions have to start somewhere.

London Guildhall

Cart Marking July 2011

10 The Clockmakers’ Museum. Beyond the library you will find this little-known museum which celebrates the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers (#61, 1631) and its Members’ work and achievements down the centuries. The displays are gorgeous, inspirational and the stories are fascinating. And it’s free. UPDATE 3/9/2015. Clockmakers’ museum is now closed, but reopening at the Science Museum soon.

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It’s a bit late in the day for a wee review on this, for it’s been on for two months already, and finishes on 23 September. But I managed to get there last weekend and was so bowled over by it that I’d urge you not to miss it. On show at the Guildhall Art Gallery (a favourite of mine already), the exhibition comprises selected treasure from a wide selection of the City of London’s 100-plus Livery Companies. These are items which live behind closed doors in Livery halls and which we the general public rarely get to see. The range in eclectic and all the bits are pleasing in their own way. So we have portraits of worthies – typically masters – office holders’ regalia, furniture and decorative objects, commemorative and celebratory pieces. Just to mention one item at random, a taxidermed ram’s head which serves as a snuff-box. One of my favourites has to be a display object for the 1851 Great Exhibition by the Cutlers’ Company which comprises 1,851 blades, all fanned out. See picture below. We have a coat and badge from the Watermen’s Company, the prize of Doggett’s Coat and Badge Race from 1903 which I wrote about recently. The piece de resistance, however, is undoubtedly Holbein’s group portrait of Henry VIII and the Barber Surgeons, lent to the show by that particular Company.

Butcher Baker Candlestick Maker Guildhall Art Gallery

Henry VIII and the Barber Surgeons, panel, by Hans Holbein. Collection of Company of Barbers.

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Henry VIII and the Barber Surgeons (detail), panel, by Hans Holbein. Collection of Company of Barbers.

Butchers Bakers Candlestick Makers.

Cutlers Blade Tree, 1851, made by apprentices of John Weiss and Sons. © Mr G Bond.

Butcher Baker Candlestick Maker Guildhall Art Gallery

Doggett’s Coat and Badge prize from 1903. Collection of Company of Watermen.

Butcher, Baker and Candlestick Maker: 850 Years of Livery Company Treasures runs until 23 September. Entrance is £5, £3 concessions and Free to Art Fund members and other select groups. More information here. 

On leaving the gallery, we were accosted by a steward who told us that the Great Hall in the Guildhall was open if we’d care to take a look. We did care to take a look and had it completely to ourselves. Not sure if it’s open to the public every Sunday, but what a treat.

The great hall. London Guildhall.

The Great Hall. London Guildhall.

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I’m very glad that the bicentenary of Spencer Perceval’s assassination appears to be getting improved coverage today. At last.

But Perceval wasn’t the only PM to meet his maker on 11 May. Exactly 34 years previously, William Pitt (“the Elder”), 1st Earl of Chatham, died quietly at the family home in Hayes, Kent. But the death of “The Great Commoner” is remembered far more dramatically in a favourite painting of mine by the American artist John Singleton Copley (1738 – 1815). Though called The Death of the Earl of Chatham, what the painting is actually of is Pitt’s collapse in the House of Lords some weeks earlier, on the 7th of April. The picture can be seen at The National Portrait Gallery and I would urge you to look out for it on your next visit. Here it is.

death of the earl of chatham, john singleton copley, national portrait gallery, london

The Death of the Earl of Chatham, By John Singleton Copley, 1779-81. Tate 2012; on loan to the National Portrait Gallery, London

Apart from the dying Earl, the picture includes John Jeffreys Pratt, 1st Marquess Camden; John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham; Henry Frederick, Duke of Cumberland and Strathearn; Frederick North, 2nd Earl of Guilford; William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield; James Charles Pitt; William Pitt; William Henry Cavendish Bentinck, 3rd Duke of Portland; Charles Lennox, 3rd Duke of Richmond and Lennox; Charles Watson-Wentworth, 2nd Marquess of Rockingham and 44 others.

This is a typical genre painting of the age, popular throughout Europe since at least the 16C. Mostly commissioned, the idea was to fill the picture with portraits of worthies, the more flattering the better. No doubt Copley, talented though he undoubtedly was, as an immigrant from the colonies would be most keen to garner favour in a world dominated by such as Joshua Reynolds.

So. While reminding myself of this splendid picture, I thought that John Singleton Copley rang a bell. It was the American thing. Of course. He was the guy who made one of the largest oil painting in England, The Defeat of the Floating Batteries at Gibraltar, September 1782. It was commissioned by the City of London very shortly after the incident itself and can be viewed today at the Guildhall Art Gallery, where it occupies the whole back wall of the gallery over two floors. Read the full remarkable story of this painting here.

My curiosity about this emigre artist in London now suitably whetted, I looked for more of his works. Most are fairly standard and unremarkable for the age, although all very skilfully done. There is an exception: another highly dramatic and unusual depiction: Watson and the Shark. This painting shows the real story of a teenager Brook Watson being attacked by a shark off the coast in Cuba. The fish destroyed the bottom half of the boy’s right leg. Undeterred by his disability, Watson went on to have a fascinating and successful career as a commissary and merchant and, back in London a founder and chairman of Lloyds. He was MP for the City of London for nine years from 1784 and in 1796 became Lord Mayor of London. Not bad. And so we return to London, where you can see two of the pictures mentioned here absolutely for free at the National Portrait Gallery and the Guildhall Art Gallery. We’re so lucky.

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Watson and the Shark, 1778. National Gallery of Art, Washington DC.

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I thought I’d just share some pictures with you from our final event of the year, Art and the City, which happened yesterday. The format was a guided walk around City of London with the excellent Colin Davey, a City of London Guide; a very welcome hot lunch at the Barbican; a tour of the Guildhall Art Gallery and its wonderful Roman Amphitheatre, again led by Colin; the usual London Historians pub sesh afterwards. It was a lovely sunny day mostly, but very nippy indeed. My thanks to the hardy ten London Historians who braved the elements and, I believe, had a wonderful day out. I know I did. We will be introducing a lot more of this sort of thing in 2012. Unusual formats. Our member guides (of whom there are now at least a dozen) are very enthusiastic about helping to put together this programme.

These pictures barely scratch the surface of our day, but you get the idea. Thank, Colin.

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Our first pleasant surprise was that the strangely-named Wren church St Vedast-alias-Foster was open. I hadn't been inside before.

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Vista from the roof of One New Change shopping mall, aka the Stealth Bomber.

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Colin packs our heads with new knowledge.

The cordwainer

The Cordwainer

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A Richard Rogers building. It's important to appreciate the modern too.

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St Giles-without-Cripplegate. I had forgotten that this church is right at the centre of the modern Barbican.

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Guildhall Art Gallery

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The Roman Amphitheatre underneath Guildhall Yard.

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Bottoms Up! Happy historians.

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Further to the recent post mulling over the design for the new members’ card, I popped into the Guildhall Art Gallery last Wednesday, knowing they have lots of wonderful London images (many thousands, in fact, most of which archived). One which I didn’t pick up on earlier is this wonderful painting.

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Blackfriars Bridge and St Paul's by William Marlow (1788), Guildhall Art Gallery.

A quick straw poll among a group of members and followers made this the unanimous favourite. I had decided to avoid St Paul’s and the Palace of Westminster as being a bit touristy, but I think we’ll just have to break this self-imposed rule, partially because of the quality of the painting, but also because it includes a lovely depiction of old Blackfriars Bridge. The third to be built in Central London after London Bridge and Westminster Bridge, Blackfriars was opened in 1769, hence it was very new when this painting was made in 1788. Designed by Scotsman Robert Mylne when still in his 20s and made using Portland stone, it was a very handsome structure. However, it had a history of frequent repair work and eventually got replaced exactly a hundred years later by the current bridge, opened by Queen Victoria herself in 1869. Designed by Thomas Cubitt and built out of wrought iron, I think  this too is very fine-looking bridge. Here is a picture from a similar viewpoint as the William Marlow picture.

blackfriars bridge and st paul's

Blackfriars Bridge and St Paul's by "Chris O", Wikimedia Commons

This view will once again be substantially different when the Blackfriars Station redevelopment is complete.

Getting back to the Guildhall Art Gallery again for a moment, along with Dulwich, the Wallace Collection and the Courtauld, it is one of my favourites outside of the grand collections such as the National, Tate etc. Entrance is free and I thoroughly recommend a visit. We’ll be organising a London Historians guided tour in the near future.

Update 25/9/2011
Here is the factory prototype of the new members’ card, which I signed off on Friday. Very pleased with it. Personalised versions for all new members who have joined since 1 September should be ready by the end of the week.

london historians new members' card

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