Victoriana @ Guildhall Art Gallery

Do you like the Victorian?
The Victorian era started as Queen Victoria ascended to the throne on 20th June 1837 and came to close on 22nd January 1901 with her death.
It may sound pathetically shallow but the era had been my least favourite period of the British history solely because of its distinctive aesthetic. For example, the architecture in the Victorian era looked like a mimic of its medieval counterpart. The excessive amount of motifs related to gothic artefacts employed in & around the buildings which emerged during the Victorian time connoted the general mood of the era – “Piety”.
They were crammed in with such vigour, like Norma Kamali in the ’90s did with her power shoulders.

Another image sprang up in my head when I thought about the Victorian was the interior of  the gothic mansion in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho”. In my memory (therefore, it could be wrong), everywhere was covered with a decaying pattern of mediocre quality which added power to the already claustrophobic atmosphere of the film.
I thought everything to do with the Victorian was a bad taste and kitsch.

Then, one programme I came across by chance on BBC4 made me reconsider about my prejudice against the era.
“Pugin: God’s Own Architect” featured a long misunderstood and less appreciated Victorian architect, Augustus Northmore Welby Pugin. He was a dynamo behind designing the iconic clock tower of Big Ben as well as the Palace of Westminster. The programme recounted how he came to shape the Gothic Revival style and his tragically early demise – he was only 40 years old.
The programme also shone a light on the Victorian psyche – the undercurrent of the ordinary people who were deeply indignant about the Georgian era which was rampant with debauchery and blasphemy. The growing concern of the bourgeois class, including Pugin, regarding social & moral degeneration,was a catalyst of the change which propelled them to lead a polar opposite lifestyle. In the Victorian society, social unrest such as the French Revolution was far from being a distant memory. The people’s desire for living in a romanticised medieval Christian civic order was reflected on the surge of demand for Gothic inspired style and fashion.

The general trend which defines the era tends to oscillate between two extremes. The Georgian vs the Victorian was a classic example. Then, how about Modernism vs Postmodern?
Futuristically svelte buildings of the pre & post WW II were replaced with counterparts heavily encrusted with classical motifs. Like history repeating itself, the excessive ’80s was followed up by the pared-down ’90s which celebrated the aesthetic of John Pawson & Calvin Klein.

When I was flicking through nearly a month old copy of Time Out during my nightly soak in an Epsom salt bath, I came across this exhibition “Victoriana” at Guildhall Art Gallery in the City.
Hmmm.., sounds interesting.
Since the Guildhall was just a short bus ride away from me, I decided to pay a visit.

The Guildhall with its marbled forecourt…



“Victoriana: The Art of Revival” was curated by Sonia Solicari, head of Guildhall Art Gallery. The exhibits comprised with the works by contemporary artists who were inspired by the Victorian era…


As I descended the stairs. I was greeted with… insects!
My apology to all nature loving bloggers & readers but I am not very comfortable with any creatures with legs more than four…


It was a part of the installation by Tessa Farmer, titled ” THE MINION AMBUSHED BY A MOB OF FAIRIES”.
She utilised an existing marble statue owned by the Guildhall and combined it with her signature touch of presenting exquisitely preserved insects which were implied to be the fairies in this exhibit.

The show at the lower ground floor gallery was an intimate affair…


The works were displayed like curios in any Victorian parlour which added an air of authenticity to the exhibits.

At “Reimagined Parlour”, I was confronted by “TROPHY CHAIR” by Miss Pokeno…


Since blood sports had become almost a bygone activity of the past, for modern urban dwellers like us, coming face to face with stuffed animals which were displayed as trophies of game, not as precious specimens in the museum, would be an unsettling experience.
Then I thought, what about our present society?
How would the Victorians react to ultra violent video games such as Grand Theft Auto? Wouldn’t they recoil in horror and disgust with the sight of unflinching violence unfolding on the screen?

In here, Rob Ryan, famous for his intricate paper art had fun with traditional Staffordshire ceramics…


“I REMEMBER, NOBODY REMEMBERS” showed his interest in the nature of mass production which started in the 19th century.

We do have a lot in common with the Victorians. Probably, much more than we ever imagine.
After all, love it or hate it, the Victorian style was the very first cultural trend created by the public, not by any privileged ruling class.

Hubbie & I came across this building while we were sauntering around Brick Lane yesterday…


The window detail was unmistakably Victorian…


The stone on the wall by the entrance indicated that the building was opened on April the 20th 1887…


The presence of the Victorians is still all around us, If only we care to look more attentively…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

3 thoughts on “Victoriana @ Guildhall Art Gallery

  1. Pingback: Steampunk sideshow at Guildhall Art Gallery London by all accounts, ‘Bang up to the elephant’ * | kelise

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