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.
London’s first purpose-built gallery, it 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). Cheery.
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 there’s also an outdoor pavilion commissioned every summer, and Flotsam & Jetsam – a newly opened brunch spot with sliding glass doors that open up onto the lawn. Inspired by Antipodean cafés, they serve speciality coffee and an all-day brunch – which you can enjoy al fresco once the weather gets warm.
The original Permanent Collection here – thanks to Bourgeois, Desenfans, and a number of donations since – 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 the Dulwich Picture Gallery also hosts 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. Currently, they’re showcasing the ethereal work of Lithuania’s most famous artist, M.K. Čiurlionis (until 12th March 2023).
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. You can see what’s coming up here.
Proper brain fodder.
NOTE: Dulwich Picture Gallery is open Wed-Sun 10am-5pm (last entry 4.30pm). Tickets cost around £16.50, but they’ve just introduced a new £5 ticket scheme for 18-30s: you can find out more, and book tickets, via their website here. Flotsam & Jestam is open Tues-Sat 8am-5pm and Sun 8.30am-5pm, and is walk-in only.
Dulwich Picture Gallery | Gallery Road, Dulwich, SE21 7AD
Like the visual arts? Check out our guide to what’s on in the best art galleries in London
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