Guildford House Gallery is sixty years young this year and is celebrating all summer with an exhibition dedicated to people and places with links to the borough.
Officially opened in 1959 by Alderman Lawrence Powell, the building at 25 High Street then known as ‘Child House’ was bought by the Council in 1957. Mayor of Guildford, Alderman Harold Kimber announced that after restoration 25 High Street would replace the demolished Guildford House as a centre for exhibitions and educational activities and be known as ‘Guildford House’.
The Guildford House Gallery welcomes thousands of residents and visitors every year to enjoy the free exhibitions and activities it offers.
The People and Places exhibition runs until 22 September. It includes a series of six individual mini displays or stories based on a portrait, landscape or townscape as starting points and links between them and objects from Guildford’s collections. Themes include unexpected connections, ways of seeing, fashionable families, that’s entertainment, how your garden grows and more.
Portraits from the town’s most famous painter John Russell (1745-1806) feature in the exhibition. Elected as a Royal Academician in 1788, he was appointed Crayon Painter to King George III, Queen Charlotte, the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Kent in 1790.
Guildford Heritage Service holds what we believe to be the largest collection of Russell portraits anywhere in the world, as well as numerous prints and objects such as Russell’s easel, pastels, and sketches of the town.
Lead Councillor for Leisure, Heritage, Communications and Tourism, Cllr James Steel says: ‘Our town is enriched by its history and artists, architecture and natural landscapes. It plays a huge part in making our borough so vibrant and one of the most sought-after places to live in the South East.’
Each story in the People and Places exhibition was curated by a member of staff. Lynn Szygenda, Exhibitions and Audience Development Manager focused on fashionable families. She says: ‘I chose Guildfordian John Russell’s portraits as a base for my mini collection. A pioneer of pastel portraits, he was one of the most popular artists of his day. His sitters came from all walks of life and included Surrey characters. He was excellent at portraying children and his own children modelled for him as did his wife. The most striking theme in these paintings is the portray of costume and the varied changing fashions of the time.’
She added: ‘It is interesting to note that Russell charged £80 15s 0d for a half-length portrait whereas Sir Joshua Reynolds PRA FRS FRSA arguably one of the most famous artists in the country at the time charged only £70.’
Gemma Haigh, Curatorial Assistant selected ancient history in the eighteenth century for her story ‘Classically Contrived’. Gemma was recently awarded a prestigious Understanding British Portraits Fellowship award enabling her to develop professional expertise in portraiture, specifically John Russell portraits. Russell features in her mini collection which explains how visitors were attracted to excavated cities such as Herculaneum and Pompeii to experience the magic, culture and history they held.
She says: ‘‘The Grand Tour’ was a right-of-passage for middle and upper class Englishmen and some women and was often the finishing touch to any education. Tourists would explore the sites and leave inspired and influenced by the classical styles they saw. This period is called ‘Neo-Classical’ and it gave rise to new fashions, architecture, art and learning.’
Dajana Topczewski, Engagement Officer chose local and regional abstract artists as the basis for her ‘Ways of Seeing’ story which contrasts the rest of the collection. She explains: ‘Since the early 1900s abstract art has formed a central part of modern art and is described as a visual language of shape form, colour and line which simplifies the subject it represents.’
Her story concentrates on Ronald Smoothey MBE (1914-1996). Born in Essex Smoothey studied in Guildford and later Camberwell School of Arts then Goldsmiths’ College where he obtained his teacher’s certificate. He was Art Master at the Royal Grammar School for 32 years until 1979 and lifelong member of the Guildford Art Society. He was awarded MBE for services to Art Education at National Level.
‘People and Places’, held at the gallery on the High Street, will run from 20 July to 22 September and complements art work with objects from Guildford Borough Council’s museum and gallery collections to tell stories and reveal – often unexpectedly – connections between the pieces.