A lot of us spend hours at our desk at work and that includes our lunch break. I decided to do something different and reclaim back my lunch hour, rather than spending it at my desk, as I usually do. I decided to explore what was on offer around St Paul’s where I do the day Job. Situated across the road from my office, is the Guildhall Art Gallery, which is the focus of this post. The Guildhall Art Gallery, The Guildhall and The Guild Church of Saint Lawrence Jewry are all located in the Guildhall Yard in the City of London. Who knew there was so much history around me. Note to self, I should visit more historic sites around the city of London and maybe you could do something different and explore what the vicinity of your office has to offer.
Most recently, the reception and end of the parade after the service of commemoration at St. Paul’s Cathedral, marking 13 years of military operations in Afghanistan took place at the Guildhall, I captured these lovely pictures outside my office.
The Guild Church of Saint Lawrence was built in 1666 after the fire of London. The Church is the official church of the Lord Mayor of London and the City of London Corporation.
The Guildhall Art Gallery has recently re-opened after extensive refreshment and rehanging of works. It was first built in 1885 and shows a changing display of about 250 artworks from its collection of paintings, drawings and sculpture out of a collection of over 4000 works, in addition to a programme of temporary exhibitions. The Gallery is also responsible for significant works of art held in the Guildhall, statues in the Old Bailey and further sculptures and the Harold Samuel Collection of 17th Century Dutch and Flemish Paintings at Mansion House and the Lord Mayor’s residence. The Guildhall Gallery is the first gallery in the UK to open its doors on Sunday to members of the public.
During my visit, a tour of the gallery was going on, so I joined them and my visit had a completely different perspective, it was more informative and the paintings were brought to life by the tour guide’s enthusiasm. Here is a rundown of my visit and me reclaiming my lunch hour by exploring what my city has to offer around me.
City of London
On entry, to the left of the gallery is the ground floor gallery, showcasing the activities and buildings in the financial capital of the UK and major landmarks around the city of London. It is fascinating to see different parts of the city of London that I walk by everyday in paintings from over 50 years ago to present day.
It is also interesting to see how the landscape of the city has changed, but yet remains the same through these art works, as depicted in the works of William Logdail (1859 – 1944) of The Ninth of November 1888, which shows the iconic Royal Exchange and Bank of England of London in the background.
The painting was commissioned by the Lord Mayor at the time, capturing the eve of the Lord Mayor ceremony. The painter sketched out the people in the painting at the site of the event and painted them in later in his studio.
At the entrance of the gallery, you can’t help but notice this gigantic art piece in the main gallery from the upper Mezzanine floor, which extends to the lower ground floor. This painting was painted by John Singleton Copley’ depicting the Defeat of the Floating Batteries at Gibraltar. This enormous painting measuring 302 cm × 762 cm (214 in × 297 in), was meant to take two years to complete initially, but it took the painter eight years in the end. During the first world war the painting was rolled up and stored in Oxford. In 1974, it was in a dreadful state and it took another eight years to clean and restore it. In the history of this amazing art work, two buildings were built around it, including the Guildhall Art Gallery which currently accommodates the painting today.
The Victorian collection
On the same floor in the main gallery is a wide variety of Victorian paintings on display. The collection spans the period of queen Victoria from 1837 – 1901 and is displayed in the style of that era with chains hanging from the ceiling and framed in golden decorated frames.
In this period, artist started challenging the subjects depicted in paintings which were often inspired by religious themes. Artists started capturing everyday life around beauty, home, work, leisure, love and imagination which are spectacularly displayed around the Mezzanine floor. Some of which I’ve captured below.
Apparently, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Americans are big Collectors of this style of artworks. I love the display, frames and the way the paintings are hanging from chains.
Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Amongst the Victorian collection is the works of Rossetti, which is the most valuable painting in the gallery’s collection. Victorian painters including Rossetti aimed to capture and redefine what was deemed to be the beauty ideal at the time.
Tower Bridge Exhibition
The gallery has a space for temporary exhibitions. The current temporary exhibition is the 120 years of Tower Bridge (1888-2014) celebration.
An interesting piece, which is somewhat out of place is the works by Mentor Chico, the painting was still a little bit wet when it was brought into the gallery. In celebration of 120 years of tower bridge, this painting provides a lovely contemporary perspective of the city of the London compared to the other paintings in the gallery. It shows multi-cultural aspect of London and the painting also featured himself as one of the people walking on the bridge, it shows the newly installed glass walk on tower bridge. The gold sky could be viewed as a symbolism of the city running on money and gold. The artist captures the Walkie Talkie, the chess grater and the Gherkin buildings caressing the skyline.
Another contemporary works that caught my eye is the abstract realism works of Judith Evans and Arthur Watson. The artist describe the image of Tower Bridge as an agent of progress in a period of political and social change at the time.
The spirit of London 1981
There were other works in drawings, photographs and paintings by different artists which also captured the different interpretations of Tower Bridge and its history.
Some photographs of Tower Bridge
London Bridge was not left out of the collection. London Bridge was the first bridge on the Thames and there was a cost for crossing to ease congestion and recoup the cost of building the bridge. The works of Clarkson Frederick Stanfield captures the congestion on London Bridge at its opening, which could easily be a scene on London Bridge today during rush hour. I like the way the artist captured the double decker buses and lorry carts in different colours and the general hustle and bustle of the city.
The opening of London Bridge
Some other works featured market scenes around the city of London. Lovely paintings of Smithfield, Exmouth and Billinsgate markets below.
This painting by John Michael Wright of Sir Hugh Wyndham is one of the oldest paintings in the gallery’s collection, which was painted around 1617. The collection at the Guildhall Art Gallery started with this piece. There are only two remaining of these magnificent works, as most of them were destroy in the fire of London. The other one is at the Ministry of Justice at the Old Baileys. Rumour has it, that the painter only painted the head and the rest of the red rob was done by his students,as the body appears to be out of proportion, the head and hands look too small for the body.
Unfortunately the lighting at the gallery was not suitable for photography and I could not get a good shot of this amazing works, but you may be able to get a feel for the size of this paintings, Its enormous! This needs to be seen in person.
Right next to the oldest painting, is a painting of the ceremony of administering the mayoralty oath, which is rather interesting as it is painting of a ceremony that takes place at the London guildhall in absolute silent and is still done at the Guildhall today. The artist has chosen to show people having conversations.
London’s Roman Amphitheatre
In 1988, Museum of London archaeologists made an astonishing discovery that changed the face of Roman London. The capital’s only Roman amphitheatre was located in Guildhall Yard, during an archaeological dig taking place in preparation for the new Art Gallery building project. This led to over a 10 year delay in the opening of the gallery. In 2002, the doors to the amphitheatre opened for the first time in nearly 2,000 years. I ran out of time and I did not get to visit this part of the Gallery, maybe another lunch break.
Well that’s it for now, thank you to the tour guide and the guildhall art gallery. I enjoyed my lunch break, happy I did something different. I really liked the way the gallery mixed old masters paintings and contemporary art. It was fascinating to see what the City of London looked like ages ago captured in different styles of art works. Some of the art works are huge and it is much better enjoying the whole collection in person, so visit if you are ever in the area.
Admission to The Guildhall Art Gallery is Free for most exhibitions. Visit the Guildhall Art Gallery website for more information. Opening hours: Monday – Saturday 10am – 5pm and Sunday 12 noon – 4pm
How are you spending your lunch hour? Not at your desks I hope:) Please share and comment on your mini adventures during your lunch break.