Tucked away in South London is Dulwich Village, a little nugget of Utopia boasting leafy parks, multi-million pound houses, family-friendly pubs, independent eateries, and a budding cultural scene, among which is Dulwich Picture Gallery.
Dulwich Picture Gallery, London’s first purpose-built gallery, was set up in 1811 after the death of art collector Sir Francis Bourgeois. Earlier in his life, Bourgeois and fellow art dealer Noel Desenfans had been commissioned to build a collection of art for the King of Poland. However the king abdicated before receiving the collection, and after Desenfans passed, the paintings were left with Bourgeois. Upon his death, Bourgeois donated his collection to Dulwich College under the condition that a gallery was built and the artworks were shown publicly. He even put forward his friend and architect Sir John Soane to design the gallery, including a mausoleum in the middle where he, Desenfans, and their spouses would be buried (which he did).
Soane designed a raw-brick building with arched windows and a huge wrap-around lawn. Inside is a series of inter-linking rooms, lit by multiple sky-lights, at the centre of which is the mausoleum. Nowadays you’ll also find the Dulwich Picture Gallery cafe – a slick, bistro-esque space with sliding glass doors that open up onto the lawn. They serve both breakfast and lunch – everything from freshly baked croissants and pastries, to a Ginger Pig aged beef burger in a brioche bun, with burger sauce, vine tomato and sweet potato fries – both of which you can enjoy al fresco once the weather gets warm.
Exhibition-wise, they of course have the original Permanent Collection which, thanks to Bourgeois, Desenfans, and a number of donations since, now includes over 600 of the finest ‘Old Master’ paintings in the world. You’ll find works from Rembrandt, Gainsborough, Poussin, Watteau, Canaletto, Rubens, Veronese, Murillo, and more. However they also host a number of temporary exhibitions often with the aim of discovering new international artists; rediscovering older, once famous, now neglected artists; or offering a new perspective on a few better-known names.
Current exhibitions include Harald Sohlberg: Painting Norway which brings one of Norway’s greatest painters to London for his first major UK exhibition. Pissarro In Dulwich also opens on the 30th of April, celebrating the 400th anniversary of the founding of Dulwich College with a selection of paintings painted by Camille Pissarro back in 1871.
They also host a variety of talks and events, sometimes focused on the current collections, otherwise just interesting stuff with interesting people loosely linked to the arts. Currently they’ve got a lecture series called Our Future: Ideas on Tomorrow’s World running until December, where author Lady Antonia Fraser and journalist and analyst Jonathan Fenby have been invited to ponder how to the world will look a generation from now, looking at social change, culture, the media, and ethics.
Proper brain fodder.
NOTE: Dulwich Picture Gallery is open Tues-Sun 10am-5pm (last entry 4.30pm). It’s closed Mon (except bank holidays). Adult tickets for the permanent collection are £9. The ticket price for the temporary exhibitions vary. Both can be booked via their website here. The Dulwich Picture Gallery Cafe is open Tues-Sun 8.30am-5pm and Sun 9am-5pm.
Dulwich Picture Gallery | Gallery Road, Dulwich, SE21 7AD
Like the visual arts? Check out our guide to what’s on in every art gallery in London