Dulwich Picture Gallery was designed by London architect Sir John Soane using an innovative and influential method of illumination, and was opened to the public in 1817. It is located in Dulwich, South London and is the world’s first purpose-built art gallery that houses one of the most celebrated collections of European Old Master paintings. The collection spanning the 1600s and 1700s has works by Rubens, Poussin, Van Dyck, Rembrandt, Watteau and Gainsborough.
These works of art were originally a part of a collection of paintings that had been collected by the King of Poland in the 1790s. However, when Poland was partitioned, the works were transported to Dulwich for some ‘clean air’ and for safekeeping. The gallery proved to be the right place for keeping the collection mainly because of the quality of Soane’s design that used natural and overhead lighting combined with a clear layout of interlinked rooms. This design became a basis for future gallery design throughout the world.
Dulwich is a lovely 18th century village on the outskirts of London and has proved to be an ideal setting for housing this small, traditional collection which shows glimpses of its universal significance. Many critically-acclaimed and crowd pulling exhibitions are held throughout the year at the gallery showcasing the European Old Master paintings, the fantastic gallery design and architecture of Soane and other acclaimed events.
The Dulwich Picture gallery is the oldest public art gallery in England but it was only in 1994 that it became an independent charitable trust. Till that time, it was part of Alleyn’s College of God’s Gift, which was established by actor, entrepreneur and philanthropist Edward Alleyn in the early seventeenth century. Dulwich Picture Gallery has some of the finest collections of Old Masters that are especially rich in French, Italian and Spanish Baroque paintings mainly due to the acquisitions of artworks by its founders and bequests by its many patrons. It also houses British portraits from Tudor times to the 19th century.
The clear design of the Dulwich Picture Gallery by Soane is significant as there are skylights to illuminate the paintings indirectly due to which the gallery has become one of the great small galleries where you can view the oil paintings.