Magazine article The Spectator

Capital Attraction

Magazine article The Spectator

Capital Attraction

Article excerpt


Creative Quarters: The Art World in London 1700-2000

(Museum of London, till 15 July)

If one was to conduct a popular poll of London, somewhere amongst the polarised views of the metropolis would be a reference to London's role as a creative centre. The aim of this exhibition is to bring together otherwise fragmentary accounts, in order to convey the enduring longevity of an art world in London. The current international profile of the YBAs (Young British Artists) and their progeny based in the East End of London makes this exploration particularly timely.

In tackling what is a vast subject, the curators have wisely devised an exhibition which focuses on the roughly chronologically defined evolving dynamics of London itself as a place of study, patronage and inspiration. The exhibition's layout is therefore structured around the shift over five centuries from the City westward and finally back east, to the East End. In order to get our bearings and contextual points of reference, in true A-Z fashion the organisers have selected contemporary historical maps on which are identified the confluence of artists' studios and homes, meeting places, supporting trades and organisations, art schools and academies, exhibition spaces and dealers, inspiring sites and architecture, and public art.

The first section, which sets the scene for the exhibition, runs from 1560 to 1690 and charts the demise of the controlling guild system, represented by the Painter-Stainers' Company, based within the City's walls. Foreign artists were specifically excluded from this guild and they therefore contributed to the development of pockets of nearby creativity such as the parish of St Giles, Cripplegate. Aspirant London artists aimed to secure patronage from the monarchy and those who succeeded as Serjeant-Painters could find themselves painting royal portraits, fixtures and fittings for royal palaces and even the odd fire bucket.

By the 18th century, the rise of the mercantile and business classes offered new sources of patronage, and in pursuit of this artists banded together to form schools, societies and academies so as to establish professional standards of training, exhibition opportunities and commissions. In order to convey their upwardly mobile credentials, artists had to follow their potential clientele, and they settled in the districts of Covent Garden, Leicester Fields (Leicester Square), Piccadilly and Oxford Street: the fashionable portraitists, Sir Godfrey Kneller and Thomas Hudson, for example, lived on the impressive Great Queen Street. …

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