Guildhall Art Gallery Reopens With Rehang
Londonist Rating: ★★★★☆
The City of London possesses almost twice as many works of art as the National Gallery (4,500 pieces versus 2,300). The fruits of this collection are shown off in the Guildhall Art Gallery, an impressive building by Richard Gilbert Scott that you can freely wander round any day of the week. And you really should.
The gallery just reopened following its first major rehang in 15 years. The transformation is simultaneously bold and subtle, if such a thing is possible. Bold is the significant shuffle of paintings — 70% in the Victorian section, we're told. And yet the feel of the place remains the same, dominated by intense 19th century canvases and mesmerising panoramas of London. The behemoth two-storey painting by John Singleton Copley — The Defeat of the Floating Batteries at Gibraltar — retains its centrepiece position. The controversial statue of Margaret Thatcher has, however, been jettisoned. Paintings are now arranged by strong themes, such as love, leisure, worship and work, cutting across styles and decades but keeping you in a compartmentalised frame of mind.
Overall, we're impressed; but not at everything. A new City of London Heritage gallery offers up documents and maps from the Square Mile's history. It's frustratingly small, although you can see an original 1297 Magna Carta. Meanwhile, two whole walls are given to the sketches and landscapes of Sir Matthew Smith. For whatever reason — perhaps their stark simplicity next to so many intricate oil paintings — these held the attention of nobody, save for one person who chuckled "Heh, Doctor Who's got himself a new career, then".
There's still much to commend here. If you've never visited before, you can only walk away impressed, especially having seen the 'Discs of Tron'-style recreation of London's Roman amphitheatre in the basement. If you're already familiar with the gallery, then the significant rehang presents some new wonders to go alongside retained triumphs like this. Guildhall Art Gallery remains one of London's most civilised free attractions, and the new look leaves it smarter and snazzier than ever.
Guildhall Art Gallery is free to visit, seven days a week. You'll find it in Guildhall Yard, a short walk from St Paul's, Bank or Moorgate stations. You can also catch the excellent returning exhibition 120 Years of Tower Bridge until 26 April (our review). Images courtesy of Guildhall Art Gallery.
Last Updated 19 January 2015