Guildhall Art Gallery


Guildhall Yard, London EC2V 5AE


020-7332 3700



Opening times:

Mon–Sat 10:00–17:00, Sun 12:00–16:00

How to get there:

Tube: Moorgate/Bank

Entry fee:

Admission charge

Additional information:

Small shop

Opened in 1999 in a new building designed by Richard Gilbert Scott (with D.Y. Associates) on the east side of Guildhall Yard, the Guildhall Art Gallery displays around 250 pictures at any one time from the Corporation of London’s collection of over 4,000 works. The administrative body of the City of London, the Corporation has its headquarters at Guildhall, on the north side of Guildhall Yard, the ancient civic heart of the City. Guildhall itself dates from 1411–30 (although a civic hall has been on the site since at least the late 13th century), but has been altered over succeeding centuries. A separate art gallery for the Corporation’s growing collection was opened in 1886 but destroyed in an air raid in May 1941. A temporary gallery was used for exhibiting a selection of pictures until 1987, when it was demolished and work on a new, permanent building began—although the astonishing discovery of London’s Roman amphitheatre on the site delayed progress. The remains of the amphitheatre have been preserved and entry to them is included on the gallery’s admission ticket.

The New Gallery has display spaces spread over two floors, smaller rooms on the ground floor, visible from an open balcony gallery on the floor above, ruthlessly covered with a busy carpet. The interesting and varied collection includes works which have been commissioned and collected by the Corporation since the 16th century. Among the portraits are monarchs and eminent City officeholders, such as John Michael Wright’s full-length portraits of two of the Fire Judges appointed to assess property claims following the disastrous Great Fire of 1666. Sir James Thornhill’s painted canvases, An Allegory of London and four Cardinal Virtues, 1725–27, were formerly set into the ceiling of the new Council Chamber at Guildhall, demolished in 1908. Topographical views of London include Jan Griffier the Younger’s The Thames during the Great Frost; Samuel Scott’s Entrance to the Fleet River; and views of the City’s landmarks such as St Paul’s Cathedral and Smithfield market. Works celebrating national victories and events include John Singleton Copley’s enormous Siege of Gibraltar, commissioned by the Corporation in 1783 and completed in 1791. One of the largest pictures in the country, it originally hung in the Common Council Chamber at Guildhall, was moved to the new art gallery on its opening in 1886, and in 1941 was rolled up and evacuated for safe storage outside London. A particular requirement of the new 1980s building was a wall large enough to accommodate it. It hangs on the double height wall between the ground and first floors, visible from both. Ceremonial subjects include William Logsdail’s Ninth of November, depicting the Lord Mayor’s Show of 1887.

Other works have been presented or bequeathed to the collection, including Sir Peter Lely’s Sir Edward Hales, an early group portrait by Charles II’s Principal Painter. Many 18th-century portraits and other works came to the collection in the 1790s from that of Alderman John Boydell, engraver, printseller and publisher, and founder of the Shakespeare Gallery in Pall Mall. Sir Thomas Lawrence’s portrait of the actor John Philip Kemble shows him in the role of Coriolanus. Further works include Constable’s full-size sketch for Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows, and many fine Victorian pictures, in which the collection is particularly rich. Well known Pre-Raphaelite works include Millais’ My First Sermon, My Second Sermon and The Woodman’s Daughter; Holman Hunt’s The Eve of St Agnes; and Rossetti’s La Ghirlandata. Other notable works are Landseer’s The First Leap; Tissot’s popular Too Early, 1873; and Sir John Lavery’s dashing portrait of his American society wife, Hazel, The Silver Swan, presented by Lady Cunard in 1923.

The darkened, spot-lit Amphitheatre Chamber is on the Lower Ground Floor. The scant remains of the stone walls of the eastern entrance to the arena are visible, as well as some sections of the drains. The theatre was first constructed around AD 70, with a timber superstructure, and was capable of seating some 6,000 spectators at a time when the population of Londinium would have been only around four times that number. Elliptical in shape, more than 100 yards long and 90 yards wide, it would have been used mainly for animal fights and public executions, rarely for expensive gladiatorial contests. In the 2nd century it was improved with stone, and abandoned at some time in the 4th century. Information panels evoke the atmosphere of the ring in full cry.

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Details below are taken from our Blue Guide Museums and Galleries of London.  This is a 2005 title, here generally updated for website address and opening times, with useful comments from some of the museums themselves.  More recent information is given in Emily Barber's magisterial new Blue Guide London, "Exceptional update to a classic and useful guide to this amazing city" (Amazon reader review).

FULL LISTING of CURRENT EXHIBITIONS in London from Apollo Magazine »

Emily Barber recommends five major London museums »

Please do share your comments and updates with us via the form below the entry for each museum.


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