The Guildhall Art Gallery in the City of London is free to visit, located in one of the most frenetic parts of London and contains one of the most interesting would-be major tourist attractions in the Square Mile. Yet, it’s always peaceful.
The gallery was established in 1886 as ‘a Collection of Art Treasures worthy of the capital city’ (how’s that for a manifesto?) and among the displays are 17th-century portraits, Pre-Raphaelite masterpieces and works dating back to 1670.
Inside, emerald green seems to shine from the walls, highlighting the bright gold frames and rich gem colours of the paintings displayed around the room. It’s here in the main picture room where the original doorways of the one side of the Guildhall (where Jane Grey suffered her trial hundreds of years ago) fit seamlessly against the modern decor and Victorian paintings of the gallery.
Downstairs is an exhibition space, currently showing works surrounding Black British cultural identity, heritage and creativity. Further down still, a gallery of dramatic art depicts London’s history including the Great Fire of 1666 as seen from the river, Charing Cross and Covent Garden.
Next we have an original copy of the Magna Carta, completely overshadowed by the British Library’s version, but still just as significant.
Finally, the gallery’s crowning-glory: the remains of a Roman Amphitheatre, hidden for thousands of years until it was discovered while the current gallery was being built. The walls are completely open and the atmosphere of the Roman games surrounds you with the help of the athletic figures that light the room.
It took over 100 years to find this gem of London history and it was only discovered in 1988; a line in the tiles in Guildhall Yard indicates where the rest of the Amphitheatre would have been. In its heyday it would have held up to 6,000 people.
Since this post is about the gallery and not the history of the Amphitheatre, I won’t go into any more detail here – you’ll just have to read the post about that when it comes out…
Opening hours: Monday – Saturday 10am-5pm; Sunday, 12pm-4pm
More information: Visit the City of London website