Dulwich Picture Gallery, 11 August 2006

A beautiful collection of Old Master paintings housed in a gem-like building designed by the neo-classical architect Sir John Soane (1752–1837).

Moving to London for my course entails the search for accommodation, and so I spent much of the weekend in the New Cross area looking at flats.

Driving home along the South Circular Road (A205) after a day of searching, I passed a sign for the Dulwich Picture Gallery. I’m surprised I’ve never visited before, but it’s in a part of London which has always seemed to be difficult to get to. Starting my course at Goldsmith’s has suddenly made this side of London much more accessible to me.

It’s perhaps worth quoting the website about the Gallery:-

The Soane building is probably the world’s first purpose-built art gallery. This is a case of right first time. The famous sequence of arched spaces in Soane’s interior is a shrine for Gallery designers, inspiring amongst others Louis Kahn in his Kimball Art Museum, Robert Venturi at the Sainsbury Wing of the National Gallery in London and Richard Meyer at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles. It is revered for practical and aesthetic reasons. Its roof-lanterns diffuse natural daylight, creating an even ‘wash’ of light over the walls, ideal for viewing paintings. The simple arches and smooth coved vaults provide interest without fuss. It is an architecture of harmonious lines rather than lavish decoration, and its elegant simplicity has never gone out of fashion.

The Gallery was opened to the public in 1817 to house the collection put together by Sir Francis Bourgeois and Noël Desenfans originally destined to be a “royal collection” for the King of Poland, before the country was partitioned around 1795. The collection is described as “one of the world’s most important collections of European old master paintings of the 1600s and 1700s.”

Some pieces that particularly interested me, mainly from a technical point of view, were:-

  • Arent de Gelder (1645–1727), Jacob’s Dream – large areas of shadow (much darker than the reproduction on the website), offsetting the vision in the top-right corner. The trees where Jacob sleeps have simply been scraped out of the thick dark paint.
  • Meindert Hobbema (1638–1709), Wooded Landscape with Watermill – the label states “the largest tree is drawn with a romantic intensity”.
  • Adam Pynacker (1620–1673), Landscape with Sportsman and Game – the birch tree’s bark seems to have been painted with a different technique than the rest of the picture – the peeling effect is very vigorously rendered – it’s like an area of the canvas that has a different tempo to the rest of the picture.
  • Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684–1721), Les Plaisirs du Bal – I’m always interested by architecture incorporated into paintings (or other works of art), not least because the developments in perspective often used architecture to demonstrate its’ effects. Here the ringed columns are based on those from the Luxembourg Palace (says the website) or Palais des Tuileries (says the label) in Paris, which, coincidentally, is being rebuilt.

A flickr set of the buildings from the visit.

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Dulwich Picture Gallery, 11 August 2006 by escdotdot is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International