London has an overwhelming number of sights, attractions and museums so even a collection which has over 4000 paintings gets overlooked by most tourists. The Guildhall houses the collection of the City of London and was started after the great fire of London in 1666. Twenty-two judges were tasked with deciding on property boundary disputes, which was often quite a laborious process. In thanks to them, portraits were commissioned for each and these were the first paintings housed in the Guildhall. The city collected works over the years regarding city events as well as non-commercial subjects.
There is a significant collection of Victorian era art, including Pre-Raphaelites, which features paintings by artists such as Millais. The centerpiece of the largest gallery is John Singleton Copley’s huge painting The Defeat of the Floating Batteries at Gibraltar. I particularly liked the large painting by William Logsdall called The Ninth of November, which features a remarkably detailed view of the Lord Mayor’s procession in front of the Bank of England. The golden coach is reflected in the wet streets and each face of the footman and people in the crowd is distinct.
There is a very nice portrait of a young Queen Victoria in 1838 by Sir George Hayter and then a remarkable painting of her Diamond Jubilee Service held outside the steps of St. Paul’s Cathedral in 1897. The Queen sits upright in her carriage and throngs of crowds are in attendance including bleacher seating on the top of surrounding buildings.
I really enjoyed the room with a selection of Pre-Raphaelites like the red-haired beauty by Rosetti, La Ghirlandata, 1833 and The Three Princesses 1881 by Edward Matthew Hale. There are also some fine Tissot’s like the bright, Too Early scene of a ladies and musicians in a ballroom caught as if in a snapshot.
Don’t be surprised if you do not see some of these paintings when you visit. Of the 4000 in the collection, only 250 are displayed at one time. The tour guide said that she has noticed paintings being switched even between tours so you are sure to see something new each time you visit. This gallery is lightly visited so you will be able to enjoy viewing the collection without a crowd. Like the Wallace Collection (which I have previously written about) it is certainly one of the hidden art gems of London. You will also find the remains of a Roman amphitheater from about 200AD in the basement which were discovered when the art gallery was being rebuilt in the 1990s.
After you have completed your tour of the gallery, walk across to the entrance of the Guildhall so you may have a look at the building which has been the seat of commerce for the city since 1411. The Medieval-style great hall is quite impressive and was one of the few stone buildings in the area to survive the great fire, although the roof had to be replaced. You may also go down to view the crypts with their beautifully vaulted ceilings.
While you are in the area, you may want to visit the Museum of London, the Bank of England Museum, the Barbican art gallery and of course, St. Paul’s Cathedral. This would certainly keep you busy for a day and provide you with a walk around some of the more modern areas of London.