You may not automatically associate London’s East End with art galleries, but the area is home to many famous and popular venues, including the Whitechapel Gallery. Founded in the early 20th century, this gallery has hosted many famous exhibitions over the years and has had a major part to play in the development of many British artists. It is well worth a visit if you find yourself in the Whitechapel area.
The history of the Whitechapel Art Gallery
The gallery in Whitechapel was founded in 1901 as a public art gallery. Its initial aim was to bring art to the local population to help educate them and to give them better recreational facilities. It is considered to be one of the first galleries that was given public funding to showcase temporary exhibitions in London. It was designed by Charles Harrison Townsend, a well-known Victorian architect who also designed the city’s Horniman Museum and Bishopsgate Institute.
Places to Visit in the East End of London – The Whitechapel Art Gallery
The gallery’s building is also of historical interest. It was designed in the Arts and Crafts style created by another famous resident of the East End, William Morris. From its opening in 1901, the gallery has had a tradition of showcasing new artists, many of whom went on to be famous in the art world on a global basis. It has also exhibited some of the most famous paintings in the world in its temporary exhibitions. Its first exhibition was so popular that it brought in over 200,000 local people, who all got their first chance to see works by artists such as Constable, Hogarth, Rubens and the Pre-Raphaelites.
The influence of the Whitechapel Gallery
Over the years, the Whitechapel Gallery has been more than able to compete with the major galleries in the centre of London. For example, in 1939, one of its exhibitions included a showing of Pablo Picasso’s Guernica. Local residents visiting this exhibition remain the only British people to have seen the painting in the country, as this was the only time it has been exhibited here.
The gallery has also given a helping hand to many major artists in their early careers. In 1958, it put on the first major exhibition of Jackson Pollock works in the country and it gave Mark Rothko his first chance to exhibit in the country in 1961. In the early 1970s, the gallery also helped boost the careers of British artists David Hockey and Gilbert and George by giving them their first shows.
The gallery today continues to promote the work of today’s artists, as well as artists who live and work in the East End. It still also runs regular retrospective exhibitions. In 2009, the gallery was expanded and refurbished to improve its facilities. It took over a neighbouring building, allowing it to almost double its capacity and to triple its exhibition space. This project also ensured that the gallery could continue to open to the public all year.
The Whitechapel Gallery and education
Part of the reason for the gallery being established in the first place was to educate the local people of Whitechapel and the East End, many of whom lived in deprived conditions. It established and maintains a firm tradition of helping to educate visitors, local residents and artists. It also continues to promote artist residencies in schools and to work on community projects through its archive, education and research facilities.
Visiting the Whitechapel Gallery
Entrance to the Whitechapel Gallery is generally free of charge. Some temporary exhibitions may not be free, however, and you may have to pay to view them. The gallery is closed on Mondays, but is open on all other days for the rest of the week. Its opening hours are 11am to 6pm, however it has late night evening opening until 9pm on Thursdays.
The gallery run regular events for families and children to help keep the smaller members of your family happy and occupied. For example, it has regular free family days and there is usually also a free family trail that you can follow on a visit. It also runs Saturday drawing classes and ad hoc arts courses for children, however these are not free. If you want to take a guided tour of the gallery, it runs public tours on the first Sunday of every month. These typically last for an hour and cover the site’s history, its exhibitions and its architecture.
There is a charge for this tour, but you do get a 10% discount in the gallery’s bookshop and café on the day of your tour’s visit. It is worth booking a place in advance for this, as tours can be popular and may book up ahead of time. The closest tube stations to the site are Aldgate East and Aldgate.