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Description: Whitechapel Art Gallery
Date Listed: 27 September 1973
English Heritage Building ID: 206354
OS Grid Reference: TQ3398481456
OS Grid Coordinates: 533984, 181456
Latitude/Longitude: 51.5161, -0.0704
4431 WHITECHAPEL HIGH STREET
TQ 3381 14/417 (North Side)
II* Whitechapel Art Gallery
Art Gallery. Designed 1897, built 1898-9, opened 1902. Charles Harrison Townsend
F.R.I.B.A. (1851-1928), and Messrs. J. Outhwaite & Son, builders. Buff terra cotta
by Gibbs & Canning, Tamworth to the facade. Art Nouveau style.
EXTERIOR: Ground floor has large, asymmetrically placed entrance comprising pair of
openings with double doors and wide semi-circular overlight, all under pronounced
arch with bracket voussoirs and string course at impost height across building; to
right, 2 square windows then a secondary entrance; above this, wall to right of arch
is blind. Above this, narrow band of 8 small square windows set between string
courses; relief of Arts and Crafts foliage of half trees with slender trunks and
entangled roots flank end windows. Upper level has turret to each side, each capped
with pair of small steeply gabled roofs, and slightly flared to base and with broad
band of foliate decoration comprising 5 courses of thickly placed leaves on slender
trunks. Between towers is band of projecting cornice below set-back rendered facade,
with tiled band below and tiled roof above.
INTERIOR: Entrance leads to vestibule now with gift shop then ground floor gallery,
skylit to aisles. Upper gallery has raised lantern and arched brace trusses with
slender reinforcing rods.
HISTORY: The Whitechapel Art Gallery was opened in 1902, on land that had been
acquired by Canon Samuel Barnett, benefactor of the adjacent Whitechapel Library
(q.v.), built a few years earlier. Once additional funds were secured by
philanthropist J. Passmore Edwards, patron of the Library, and others, construction
began to the designs of architect Charles Harrison Townsend. Townsend had to modify
his original more elaborate designs that had been exhibited at the Royal Academy, but
the final effect was an innovative display of Art Nouveau design in East London, an
area of notorious deprivation but also a thriving art movement. The Gallery housed
the permanent collection and provided a meeting place for the Whitechapel Art Group.
Townsend had designed East London's other great work of Art Nouveau architecture, the
Bishopsgate Institute (q.v.) and went on to design the Horniman Museum (q.v.). 1980s
alterations by Colquhoun and Miller.
SOURCES: The Architectural Review, volume IX, April 1901.
Listed Grade II* as an important work of Art Nouveau architecture in England by
Charles Harrison Townsend, with an imaginatively detailed and massed facade, as well
as historic interest for the link with the adjacent Whitechapel Library (q.v.), both
buildings sharing benefactors Canon Barnett and Passmore Edwards, as well as the
purpose of providing cultural and education resources for great social need in the
late-Victorian East End of London.
Listing NGR: TQ3398481456
This text is a legacy record and has not been updated since the building was originally listed. Details of the building may have changed in the intervening time. You should not rely on this listing as an accurate description of the building.
Source: English Heritage
Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.