The Dulwich Picture Gallery, London’s Oldest Art Gallery
Location: Dulwich Picture Gallery
Address: Gallery Rd, Dulwich, London SE21 7AD
A series of rooms illuminated by skylights placed to enhance the brilliance of the paintings. That’s just one way of describing the Dulwich Picture Gallery of Southwark, designed by British architect Sir John Soane. London’s oldest art gallery - but also the first public art gallery in all of England - it was inaugurated in 1817. The Dulwich Picture Gallery was conceived around a royal art collection. In 1790, British landscape painter Sir Francis Bourgeois and the French art dealer Noel Desenfans were engaged to bring together a collection of masterpieces for the King of Poland, Stanislao Augusto. The two spent five years wandering around Europe in search of the best works. But, in 1795, the King was forced to abdicate. Finding themselves stuck with a priceless collection, the two offered it to the Tsar of Russia and then the British government, but both refused it. Upon the death of Bourgeois and Desenfans, the works fell into the hands of the widow of Desenfans, Margaret, who, respecting the will of Bourgeois, thought to offer them to the public on display in a specifically built gallery. The gallery was designed by a friend of her late husband, Sir John Soane. From a collector’s point of view, the choices of Bourgeois and Desenfans reflect the tastes and offerings of the market of the time, concentrated on European paintings from the XVII and XVIII Centuries. The large collection of English paintings at Dulwich was enriched by donations by the Linley family in 1835 and by painter and collector Fairfax Murray in 1911. Between 1600 and 1750, European art was an authentic outlaw of style. Artists worked for a highly diverse group of clientele, exhibiting surprising individualism and audacious experimentation. To give some sense to this kaleidoscope of brushstrokes and artists from varying countries, the collection was organised based on from where and when the works came. The Italians, the French and the Spanish can be found on the North end of the Gallery, while the Flemish, Dutch and British works can be found on the South side of the gallery.