The Guildhall Art Gallery was built in the late 1980s to show the pick of the Guildhall's art collection. As I found out in a description of the history of the largest painting in the gallery, the old Guildhall gallery burned down during the Blitz, in 1941. No comment on what, if anything, they lost - presumably it would mostly have been moved to deep cellars, or out of the City. What they do have was unexpectedly extensive and big league stuff. I've discovered I really like Victorian art, of which they have a comprehensive collection; and their Napoleonic era naval paintings are second to none.
And...to add to that, while digging the excavations for the Gallery in 1988, they discovered the long-rumoured and expected, but never found, Roman Amphitheatre of London.
|Guildhall on the left, Guildhall Gallery Straight ahead|
|Tissot - Too Early|
Note - I didn't photograph any of the art in the gallery - they don't like that. I did buy a book of postcards, and this was one. The above image is actually hosted as being public domain on wikimedia commons, and that's where it's being pulled from. Copyright law is a minefield, but I'd like to think a work of review such as this blog can legitimately use low-resolution versions of painting like the above - and the law backs me up on that. And anything older than 70 years old is out of copyright by definition. Great painting though, and please go and see the original, its much bigger and better.
The rooms contain plenty of Landseers, Millais, Colliers and a particularly famous (I think) painting by Rossetti, La Ghirliandata. Here are a couple I particularly liked:
|Wyllie - The Opening of Tower Bridge|
|Millais - The Woodman's Daughter|
And this haunting one by Collier - you need to see the painting, the look in the eyes doesn't come through at all in this low-resolution version:
|Collier - Clytemnestra|
Now, down in the basement is the Roman Amphitheatre. What they uncovered when digging the foundations in 1988 turned out to be the eastern entrance and start of the curving walls of the oval amphitheatre itself. It's probably 5 to 10 metres below the current ground level (shows how much London has accreted in 2000 years), and its dimly lit. And it's quite amazing. After a minute or so I was the only person down there, and happily wandered through it several times. The remains of the walls are all intact, you can see some square buildings where the entrance corridor opens out into the amphitheatre. Perhaps the best feature is, under glass set in the floor, the original drains, made from timber and stone. They pretty much look like they'd still work.
What amazes me is how the remains survived at all - given the long history, the amphitheatre having been built in AD 70, and fallen into disuse around AD 400; scavenging of materials, changes in land use and ground level, building around and over the top, wars and so on.
|Corridor heading into the amphitheatre|
|Looking back from the amphitheatre - note the glass panel with the drain under it|
The museum has a couple of specialised exhibits currently, one on the Story of Smithfield market, and the other on 'Working Lives of the Thames Gateway'. Both were interesting, but it's the paintings and amphitheatre that are the real focus of the gallery.
I'd strongly recommend going. As an added bonus, at weekends the City of London is an eerily quiet place - no real bustle of tourists around this specific area. And the museum was nice and quiet.
Cost: £2.50. Also, I filled out a visitor survey form and got a free pack of Guildhall playing cards, with selected paintings on them. Just looking at their website one more time, they are moving to free entry to the permanent collection from 1st April 2011, so even better value.
Food and Drink: I didn't see any.
Toilets: Pretty good
Travel: It's here. St Pauls tube.