Whitechapel Art Gallery - Whitechapel High Street, London, UK
Posted by: Groundspeak Premium Member Master Mariner
N 51° 30.960 W 000° 04.213
30U E 703273 N 5711278
Quick Description: Whitechapel Art Gallery, or Whitechapel Gallery as it is called, stands on the north side of Whitechapel High Street just to the west of the J Passmore Edwards Library and underground station.
Location: London, United Kingdom
Date Posted: 8/20/2012 9:12:58 AM
Waymark Code: WMF43E
Published By: Groundspeak Premium Member lumbricus
Views: 3

Long Description:

The Whitechapel Gallery [visit link] gives a brief history:

"Founded in 1901 to 'bring great art to the people of the East End of London', the Whitechapel Art Gallery occupies a distinctive arts and crafts building designed by Charles Harrison Townsend. Its first exhibition, which included the Pre-Raphaelites, Constable, Hogarth and Rubens, attracted 206,000 local people.

The programme has ranged from showcasing art from Africa, India and Latin America to premiering solo emerging figures such as Picasso, Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock. Through exhibitions such as the Whitechapel Open, the gallery has promoted artists who live and work in the East End of London."

The J Passmore Edwards website [ visit link ] also carries a history of the gallery:

"In 1881, Canon Samuel Augustus Barnett, vicar of St Jude's Whitechapel, and his wife Henrietta, had organised an art exhibition at St Jude's School House, Commercial Rd. They saw art as a teacher and believed that art 'would educate people so that they might realise the extent and meaning of the past, the beauty of nature, and the substance of hope'. This free exhibition proved very popular, attracting 10 000 visitors and became an annual event. The Barnetts were persuaded of the need for a permanent exhibition space in the East End and when land adjacent to the new Free Library became available Barnett purchased it for a site for an art gallery, with a donation of £6000 from Passmore Edwards himself. Passmore Edwards promised a further £2500 but this was withdrawn when Barnett refused to call the building the Passmore Edwards Gallery. Edgar Speyer stepped in to make up the shortfall, along with A F Yarrow and Lord Iveagh.

The choice of site is significant, both facilities being seen as providing the means for the social advancement of the working classes and giving a respectable, and sober, form of recreation.

The Barnetts commissioned the Arts and Crafts architect Charles Harrison Townsend, who had previously designed the Bishpgate Institute, to design the gallery, a narrow terra cotta clad building with an asymmetrical double doorway under a massive keyed arch and a pair of squat towers. In the centre is a dark painted blank section, originally intended to hold a mosaic panel by Walter Crane representing "The Sphere and Message of Art". Passmore Edwards's withdrawal of funds lead to the cancellation of the commission.

The Gallery opened, with the first Annual Spring Exhibition, on 12 March 1901,Lord Rosebury performing the opening ceremony. Over 200,000 visitors attended the exhibition in the six weeks with the largest daily attendance being over 16,000. However donations received at the door were only £100 and, without an endowment, it was clear that the gallery was going to survive only through the enthusiasm of Charles Aitken, the full time Director,and with active, and generous Trustees.

Canon Barnett was the chairman of the Board of Trustees until his death in 1913. Other Trustees included Henrietta Barnett, Edgar Speyer, H Lawson, of the LCC, and W Blyth, who became Secretary and Treasurer. Many prominent people, including some local Anglo Jewish families, and the City Guilds were supporters of the Gallery. The gallery needed an income of around £500 per year to cover basic running costs and even with the regular donations, the gallery struggled to continue. The prospect of relinquishing the manageemnt of the gallery to the LCC was discussed but the LCC were not infavour but did award an annula grant from 1909.

1901 saw the staging of an exhibition of Chinese art, organised and funded by a separate committee, and in 1906 over 150,000 people visited the six week exhibition of Jewish Art and Antiquities.In 1910 George Bernard Shaw and Winston Churchill were both involved in the staging of the Shakespeare Memorial and Theatrical Exhibition. However, in 1914 prposals for an exhibitian of Twentieth Century Art, organised by Aitken and Gilbert Ramsey, who had become Director when Aitken moved to the Tate, caused Henrietta Barnett to write to plead with the them " not to get too many examples of the extreeme thought of this century, for we must never forget that the Whitechapel Gallery is intended for Whitechapel people, who have to be delicately led and will not understand the Post impressionist or futuristicmethodsof seeing or representing things".Whether the aims of the original Trustees- "to open to the people of East London a larger world than that in which they usually work. To draw them to a pleasure recreating their minds , and to stir in them a human curiosity" were being met is a matter of debate. Whilst many local people did attend the exhibitions even more were attracted from elsewhere. Perhaps there was value in them visiting the East end and seeing the daily living conditions of the working classes was equally valid.

After Barnett's death in 1913, Aitken's move to the Tate and the outbreak of the first world war in 1914, the struggle to finance the gallery became greater. By 1922 subscriptions had fallen to £200 and the LCC had withdrawn their grant. An appeal was launched which brought back several previous supporters as well as new ones but the effect was short lived and subscription income had fallen again by the end of the decade. Significant income was raised by hiring out space within the building, £500 being raised in 1922/3. At this time, however, the gallery was meeting its original aims in that many exhibitions showed local artists and both student and local school children's work. The gallery was becoming to be known as the Working Man's Gallery.

In 1939 an exhibition, opened by Clement Atlee, which included Picasso's Guernica resulted in enormous attendance figures and raised funds for the Aid Spain movement, to support the Spanish Republican cause.

During the second world war the Gallery was used mostly for war related exhibitions and also suffered bomb damage.

In spite of the work of Lord Bearsted, appointed Chairman of the Trustees in 1943, until his death in 1948,and Director Hugh Scrutton to reestablish the gallery after the war by 1949 finances were again low with less than £900 of the £5000 annual requirement being received in assured income.

The Whitechapel Art Gallery Society was formed in February 1948, in order to support the gallery financially through private and business subscription and to serve as an opinion forming body on Gallery policy. It was intended that Society subscriptions be used to fund visible improvements to the gallery, however they tended to be absorbed into the day to day running costs. Of greater benefit was the receipt of grants from the LCC and the East London Boroughs and also grants from the newly formed Arts Council.

The upturn in the Galleries finances was reflected in more ambitious exhibition projects attracting greater numbers of visitors. During the 1950s and 1960s, exhibitions included works by Modernist masters such as Braque, Kandinsky, Barbara Hepworth, Jackson Pollock and Robert Rauschenberg

In 1982 the Gallery Trustees felt the need for a separate Trust to be created to channel non-government funding in the form of exhibition sponsorship and donations to the gallery, and a planning group for a Development Trust was established. This led to the formation of the Whitechapel Art Gallery Foundation on 1 Feb 1984. At the same time an Advisory Board was set up to provide expert advice to the gallery on areas such as advertising, marketing and sponsorship.

In addition the American Friends of the Whitechapel Art Gallery Foundation Inc was incorporated in New York in 1987 to raise funds for the gallery in the USA.

The Gallery celebrated its centenary in 2001on a more stable financial footing. Private support and earned income (such as gallery hire, catalogues and membership schemes) had risen to contribute 50% of the budget. Foundations, such as the Henry Moore Foundation and the Morgan Stanley Foundation along with corporate sponsors such as Bloomberg have given genorously to maintain the Gallery in more recent years."

The gallery is Grade II* listed and the entry at the English Heritage website [ visit link ] tells us:

"Art Gallery. Designed 1897, built 1898-9, opened 1902. Charles Harrison Townsend F.R.I.B.A. (1851-1928), and Messrs. J. Outhwaite & Son, builders. Buff terra cotta by Gibbs & Canning, Tamworth to the facade. Art Nouveau style.

EXTERIOR: Ground floor has large, asymmetrically placed entrance comprising pair of openings with double doors and wide semi-circular overlight, all under pronounced arch with bracket voussoirs and string course at impost height across building; to right, 2 square windows then a secondary entrance; above this, wall to right of arch is blind. Above this, narrow band of 8 small square windows set between string courses; relief of Arts and Crafts foliage of half trees with slender trunks and entangled roots flank end windows. Upper level has turret to each side, each capped with pair of small steeply gabled roofs, and slightly flared to base and with broad band of foliate decoration comprising 5 courses of thickly placed leaves on slender trunks. Between towers is band of projecting cornice below set-back rendered facade, with tiled band below and tiled roof above.

INTERIOR: Entrance leads to vestibule now with gift shop then ground floor gallery, skylit to aisles. Upper gallery has raised lantern and arched brace trusses with slender reinforcing rods.

HISTORY: The Whitechapel Art Gallery was opened in 1902, on land that had been acquired by Canon Samuel Barnett, benefactor of the adjacent Whitechapel Library (q.v.), built a few years earlier. Once additional funds were secured by philanthropist J. Passmore Edwards, patron of the Library, and others, construction began to the designs of architect Charles Harrison Townsend. Townsend had to modify his original more elaborate designs that had been exhibited at the Royal Academy, but the final effect was an innovative display of Art Nouveau design in East London, an area of notorious deprivation but also a thriving art movement. The Gallery housed the permanent collection and provided a meeting place for the Whitechapel Art Group. Townsend had designed East London's other great work of Art Nouveau architecture, the Bishopsgate Institute (q.v.) and went on to design the Horniman Museum (q.v.). 1980s alterations by Colquhoun and Miller. 

Listed Grade II* as an important work of Art Nouveau architecture in England by Charles Harrison Townsend, with an imaginatively detailed and massed facade, as well as historic interest for the link with the adjacent Whitechapel Library (q.v.), both buildings sharing benefactors Canon Barnett and Passmore Edwards, as well as the purpose of providing cultural and education resources for great social need in the late-Victorian East End of London."

City, State or City, Country: London, United Kingdom

Year Built: 1898 -1899

Architect: Charles Harrison Townsend

Webpage from GreatBuildings.com or other approved listing: [Web Link]

Other website with more information about building: [Web Link]

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