The City of London’s Guildhall art gallery is simultaneously one of the oldest, and also one of the youngest art galleries in London, and has recently had a bit of a refurbishment.
First opened in 1885, the original building was destroyed during WW2, and it wasn’t until 1985 that the current building was constructed. What was expected to be a simple construction site was transformed though following the discovery of the Roman Amphitheater deep underground — pushing the opening of the art gallery back to 1999.
To mark its 15th anniversary, or its 130th, the main gallery has had a rehang, and put on display on of the treasures of its Victorian art collection.
Rather than hanging by date, or artist or artistic style, they have gone for a thematic arrangement, with notes about the Victorian opinion of said themes.
Such as the domestic home, the rise of leisure time, feminine beuty, religion (of course!), work and love.
London itself is a theme, and one small painting of London as seen from Hampstead Heath is striking, with just a smudge in the distance to show the city, and the unmistakable dome of St Paul’s Cathedral in the smog.
Rossetti’s La Ghirlandata dominates beauty, while Millais’ My First Sermon and My Second Sermon show the excitement, and boredom of attending church.
Interestingly, most of the 4,500 items in the art collection nearly ended up in the Tate Gallery instead, as the founder of the Guildhall collection wanted to merge it with Sir Henry Tate’s collection and build a gallery in the city.
Sir Henry spurned the offer and founded his own gallery, while the City went its own way. Which was fortunate as two galleries are better than one, if only in size, but different approaches to displaying their collections.
The Guildhall art gallery is free to visit, and open Mon – Sat, 10am – 5pm; Sun, 12 – 4pm