Friday, 5 March 2010



A real discovery. A fine building constructed between 1994 (when the foundation stone was layed) and 1999 (when it was opened by the Queen -- according to the plaques) to one side of Guildhall Yard, a vast improvement on the grey 1960s brutalist Corporation offices on the other side. (Are they a case, I wonder, as with the Royal College of Art, of a modern building's colour reflecting the colour of the adjacent buildings before they were cleaned?)

It took so long to build because they discovered the foundations of the Roman amphitheatre during construction and had to excavate and then redesign to display them in the basement. You can see one end of the oval arena, with a wide entry way and a wooden drain running down the middle.

The collection itself contain several huge portraits of kings and lord mayors and an absolutely vast Copley of some obscure 18th century battle off Gibraltar, complete with dramatically pointing officers, drowing sailors, swirling smoke and fluttering flags.

There's a fine selection of paintings of London, as you might expect: we particularly liked a collection of William Nicholson watercolours of St Paul's from a distance, during and after World War Two; a picture of a 17th century frost fair on the frozen Thames; lots of fine pictures of bridges, especially various iterations of London Bridge; and a great many Lord Mayor's parades both on land an on water (he used to go down to Westminster by barge).

There was also a small but high quality collection of Victorian paintings, mainly academic but including the odd pre-Raphaelite. They included a lovely pair of sentimental Millais: one entitled My First Sermon, showed his five year old daughter resplendent in red coat and hat and muff, sitting bolt upright in an old-fashioned high-backed pew at Kingston church; the other, entitled My Second Sermon, showed the same chil, in the same kit in the same location, but this time fast asleep.

There was a great full-length portrait of the actor Kemble, with spectacularly flashing eyes. There was a lifesize marble statue of a seated Henry Irving as Hamlet (too heavy to deliver to his rooms, apparently, which is why it ended up here). There was a smallish Alma-Tadema and a painting by one of his pupils with spookily realistic marble. And there was a picture of Edwardian young lovers taking a turn around the park in autumn weather, he with a rolled umbrella, she looking up into his face adoringly; the caption explained the moderls were a young friend or relative of the artist and her fiance, and they had to be closelychaperoned throughout the sittings.

I'm very glad to have been, though once was probably enough.

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