Essential Architecture-  London

Whitechapel Art Gallery


C. Harrison Townsend


1897 to 1901


Whitechapel, east London


Art Nouveau




Whitechapel Gallery

The distinctive façade of the Whitechapel Gallery, designed by C. Harrison Townsend.The Whitechapel Gallery, founded 1901, was one of the first publicly-funded galleries for temporary exhibitions in London. Located on Whitechapel High Street, Tower Hamlets, the Gallery has a strong track record for education and outreach projects, now focused on the Whitechapel area's Asian population. It exhibits the work of contemporary artists, as well as organizing retrospective exhibitions and shows that are of interest to the local community.

For the history of post-war British art, the most important exhibition to have been held at the Whitechapel Gallery was This is Tomorrow in 1956. Initiated by members of the Independent Group, the exhibition brought Pop Art to the general public as well as introducing some of the artists, concepts, designers and photographers that would define the Swinging Sixties.

Throughout its history, the Whitechapel Gallery had a series of open exhibitions that were a strong feature for the area's artist community, but by the early 1990s these open shows became less relevant as emerging artists moved to other areas.

In the later 1960s and through the 1970s, the critical importance of the Whitechapel Gallery was displaced by newer venues such as the Hayward Gallery, but in the 1980s the Gallery enjoyed a resurgence under the Directorship of Nicholas Serota. The Whitechapel Gallery had a major refurbishment in 1986 and there are plans for a further extension.

Bryan Robertson (1952–1968)
Nicholas Serota (1976–1988)
Catherine Lampert (1988–2002)
Iwona Blaswick (2002– )

The nearest tube station is Aldgate East.


Whitechapel Art Gallery

The Whitechapel Art Gallery was built next to the Whitechapel Library in Whitechapel High Street and opened by Lord Rosebury in March 1901. Designed by Charles Harrison Townsend, the impressive narrow fronted building, clad in Terra-cotta tiles, is fairly small but gives the appearance of being much bigger. It is one of the few Art Noveau buildings in London.

An Art Gallery in the East End was the dream of Rev. Samuel Barnett of St Jude’s Church in Commercial Street, and his wife, Henrietta. As early as the 1880s, Rev. Barnett started to bring art to the East End by staging Art Exhibitions in a local School. Then in 1899, he started a charity to raise money to build a permanent art gallery near the Whitechapel Library.

For thirty years the Whitechapel Art Gallery existed side by side with the historic Haymarket, held three times a week. Given by charter in 1708, the Haymarket was abolished in the 1930s because of the traffic congestion it caused.

The Obelisk, outside the Art Gallery, had been erected in 1853. It had been exhibited at the Crystal Palace in 1851 and bought by the Trustees of St Mary’s Whitechapel to be used as a refuge for those crossing the wide and busy High Street. It was removed when the tramway was constructed just before the First World War.

Somehow over the years the dream of Rev. Barnett, to bring art to the people of the East End, has been lost. The Art Gallery soon began to specialise in contemporary work and the leading young artists of the day. This has led to the Whitechapel Art Gallery catering more for West End tastes than East End ones.


Gallery gets £3.26m boost

Charlotte Higgins
Wednesday January 12, 2005
The Guardian

Windfall... Whitechapel art gallery director Iwona Blazwick outside Whitechapel public library, into which the gallery will expand. Photo: Graham Turner

The Whitechapel art gallery in London has received a huge cash injection, allowing it to double exhibition space and triple facilities for education and outreach.
The gallery will move into the building next door - the Whitechapel public library - which is moving to new premises nearby designed by the architect David Adjaye.

The former library space, once the home of the largest collection of Yiddish books in Europe, will provide space for site-specific commissions, the display of rarely seen collections, and a new restaurant, bookshop and education room. It will also display work from the archives, which includes material relating to visits to east London by artists including Picasso and Rothko. The architects are Robbrecht and Daem.

The Heritage Lottery Fund has put £3.26m towards the cost. It is hoped the balance of the £9.99m project will be met by fundraising, sponsorship and a grant from Arts Council England.
"We are about halfway there," said Iwona Blazwick, director of the Whitechapel, "and have a pretty clear idea about how to get there."