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• This year marks the 150th anniversary of the transatlantic cable connecting Europe and America and in celebration of the event, the City of London Corporation’s Guildhall Art Gallery is holding an exhibition looking at the impact of cable telegraphy on people’s understanding of time, space and the speed of communication. Victorians Decoded: Art and Telegraphy, a collaboration between the gallery, King’s College London, The Courtauld Institute of Art and the Institute of Making at University College London, features never-before-seen paintings from the gallery’s collection as well as rare artefacts such as code books, communication devices, samples of transatlantic telegraph sales and ‘The Great Grammatizor’, a messaging machine that will enable the public to create a coded message of their own. It took nine years, four attempts and the then largest ship in the world, the Great Eastern, to lay the cable which stretched from Valentia Island in Ireland to Newfoundland in Canada and enabled same-day messaging across the continents for the first time. Displayed over four themed rooms – ‘Distance’, ‘Resistance’, ‘Transmission’ and ‘Coding’, the exhibition features works by artists including Edward John Pointer, Edwin Landseer, James Clarke Hook, William Logsdail, William Lionel Wyllie and James Tissot. The free exhibition, which runs until 22nd January, is accompanied by a series of special curator talks. For more information, see www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/victoriansdecoded. PICTURE: Commerce and Sea Power, William Lionel Wyllie/Courtesy Guildhall Art Gallery.

• The life of artist Sir James Thornhill – the painter behind the remarkable Painted Hall at the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich, has opened at The Stephen Lawrence Gallery in Greenwich. A Great and Noble Design: Sir James Thornhill’s Painted Hall explores the story behind the commissioning of the Painted Hall, painted between 1708 and 1727, through a series of preparatory sketches made by the artist, including three newly-conserved original sketches by Thornhill. Also on show will be the results of new research undertaken into the paintings in the light of upcoming conservation work on the hall’s ceiling. The free exhibition runs at the centre at Stockwell Street until 28th October. For more, see www.ornc.org.

The food served at the Foundling Hospital comes under scrutiny in a new show at The Foundling Museum in Bloomsbury. Based on new research, Feeding the 400 looks at the impact food and eating regimes had on children at the hospital between 1740 and 1950 through an examination of art, photographs, objects including tableware and the voices of former student captured in the museum’s extensive sound archive. Guest curated by Jane Levi, the exhibition also includes a newly commissioned sound work which evokes the experience of communal eating. A programme of events accompanies the exhibition which runs until the 8th January. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.foundlingmuseum.org.

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Often described as the “finest dining hall in Europe”, the Painted Hall in Greenwich was originally designed to be the Royal Hospital for Seamen’s communal dining hall. 

But the domed hall, which forms part of King William Court – the image, right, is taken from the west end, wasn’t used as such following its completion in the mid 1720s – designed by Sir Christopher Wren and his assistant Nicholas Hawksmoor with spectacular interior paintings by Sir James Thornhill, it was deemed too grand for such a mundane purpose and instead the veteran seamen, who had moved their dining hall to the undercroft, acted as tour guides for those who would pay to see its splendour.

The paintings, for which Thornhill received his knighthood, took almost 20 years to complete. They were designed to show Britain’s naval power as well as a variety of royal subjects in their splendour. The Stuart dynasty are featured on the ceiling of the Lower Hall while the West Wall depicts the Hanoverians – King George I surrounded by his children and grandchildren including the future King George II. Thornhill himself is also present on the lower right hand section of the West Wall painting while in the background is the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral – a reference to Sir Christopher Wren.

The hall has since served a variety of purposes but among the most significant events to take place there was the lying in state of the body of Admiral Lord Nelson following his death in the Battle of Trafalgar in October, 1805. A plaque at the top of the hall marks the spot where the coffin stood.

Between 1834 and 1936, the Painted Hall served as the National Gallery of Naval Art during which more than 300 paintings around naval themes were displayed there (today these form part of the basis of the National Maritime Museum’s art collection).

After an extensive restoration, in 1939 it was again used as a dining room for officers attending the Royal Naval College and for other grand dinners, including one celebrating the formation of the United Nations in 1946.

It’s now available for hire and has also served as a film location – including for films such as The Madness of King George, Quills and the more recent film Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.

An appeal has been launched to restore the hall with the expected nine month, £450,000 restoration of the West Wall paintings slated to begin after the Olympic Games. To donate, head here.

WHERE: King William Court, Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich (nearest Docklands Light Rail station is Cutty Sark for Maritime Greenwich). WHEN: 10am to 5pm daily COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.ornc.org/visit/attractions/painted-hall.

An artist with a social conscience, William Hogarth’s sketches and paintings summed up much of what was rotten with 18th century England – the society in which he lived – much as Dickens’ writing did in the following century.

Hogarth was a native Londoner – he was the son of Richard Hogarth, a Latin teacher and publisher, in Smithfield in 1697. Despite the ups and downs of his father’s fortunes (during Hogarth’s childhood, Richard Hogarth was confined to the Fleet Prison for debt for five years following an unsuccessful venture running a coffee house), at the age of 16 William was apprenticed to an engraver named Ellis Gamble.

Following his apprenticeship, he set up his own shop in 1720 and it was at this time that he started producing political satires. Hogarth was also painting  and around this time met with artist Sir James Thornhill. He became a regular visitor to Thornhill’s art academy in Covent Garden and their friendship grew, so much so that Hogarth eventually married Thornhill’s daughter Jane in 1729.

In the early 1730s, having established himself as a painter – both of portrait groups and some early satirical painting – Hogarth turned to painting his ‘moral tales’, the first of which, A Harlot’s Progress, was published in 1732 and tells the story decline of a country girl after coming to London. It was followed by A Rake’s Progress in 1733-35 (now at the Sir John Soane’s Museum).

In 1735 Hogarth was also successful in lobbying to have an act passed to protect the copyright of artistic works – it was unofficially known as “Hogarth’s Act”. The same year he also established St Martin’s Lane Academy – a school for young artists and a guild for professionals.

In the late 1730s, Hogarth turned his hand to individual portraits of the rich and famous. Among his most famous works at this time is a magnificent portrait of Captain Thomas Coram (founder of the Foundling Hospital – it can still be seen at what is now the Foundling Museum), and another of actor David Garrick as Richard III for which he was paid the substantial sum of £200, an amount he apparently claimed was more than any other artist had received for a single portrait.

In 1743, Hogarth completed his landmark work Marriage a-la-mode, a series of six paintings which can now be seen at the National Gallery. He was also painting historical scenes – like Moses brought before Pharoah’s Daughter (for the council room of the Foundling Hospital) and Paul before Felix (for Lincoln’s Inn). In 1747, he published a series of 12 engravings, Industry and Idleness, which tells the parallel stories of two apprentices – one successful, the other not – and this was followed by a series of prints such as Beer Street, Gin Lane, and The Four Stages of Cruelty illustrating some of the less savory aspects of everyday life.

Other works completed around this time included The March of the Guards to Finchley – which looks back to the mid-1740s when the Scottish Pretender’s Army was believed to be about to threaten London, The Gate of Calais – which draws on Hogarth’s own experience of being arrested as a spy when he visited France in 1748, and the Election series – four painting which take for their subject the Oxfordshire election of 1754.

There were some clouds on his horizon at this time with unfavourable criticism of his works and beliefs about art but even as he was engaging in a robust debate with critics of his works (largely through a written work he produced called The Analysis of Beauty), Hogarth was appointed in 1757 to the post of Sergeant-Painter to King George II (he commemorated the event in a painting).

Hogarth ran into further trouble in his later years with works deliberately created to provoke – among the more famous was The Times, a work which led to a breach in his friendship with influential MP John Wilkes who then launched a personal and devastating attack on Hogarth in his newspaper The North Briton. Hogarth responded with a non-flattering engraving of Wilkes.

His last work – The Bathos, an apocalyptic piece – seems to capture his gloomy mood at the time, and having suffered a seizure in 1763, Hogarth died at his house in Leicester Fields on the 25th or 26th October, 1764, possibly of an aneurism. Buried in the churchyard of St Nicholas in Chiswick, he was survived by his wife Jane to whom he left his properties – these included his country home in Chiswick, now known as Hogarth’s House. She made her living reprinting his works until her own death five years later.

Hogarth’s legacy lies in the impact of his works which not only attacked some of the evils of his day but have since inspired countless artists and been adapted in all manner of artistic endeavours over the ensuring centuries. Hogarth’s works can still be seen at various galleries around town – including that of the Foundling Museum – and there is a fine statue of him and his pug dog, Trump, in Chiswick High Road (pictured) as well as a bust in Leicester Square.

Found 98 feet (30 metres) above the cathedral’s floor, the Whispering Gallery at London’s iconic St Paul’s Cathedral is an architectural marvel.

As with other “whispering galleries” found around the world, its construction is such that something whispered into the wall on one side of the gallery, which runs around the interior of the cathedral’s inner dome (part of the first ever ‘triple dome’), can be heard on the other side of the gallery, around 100 feet (30 metres) away.

The dome (pictured right), the design of which draws inspiration from that of St Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, was constructed to the designs of Sir Christopher Wren. The cathedral, including the dome, was essentially completed in 1708.

As well as giving views down into the cathedral, the Whispering Gallery – a relatively easy climb of only 257 steps – also provides a close-up view of murals painted on the dome’s inner surface by Sir James Thornhill. Painted between 1715 and 1719, these depict images from St Paul’s life.

Two further galleries on the dome are also publicly accessible – the Stone Gallery, which stands 173 feet (53.4 metres) above the cathedral floor, and the Golden Gallery, which stands 280 feet (85.4 metres) above the cathedral floor and offers stunning views of the city as well as southward over the Thames. But be prepared for a long climb – 528 steps – up what are in places narrow, winding staircases.

The current ball and cross on top of the dome date from 1821 (these replaced those which had first topped the cathedral). Together they stand 23 feet (seven metres) high and weigh seven tonnes.

WHERE: St Paul’s Cathedral, St Paul’s Churchyard (nearest tube station is St Paul’s); WHEN: The galleries are open from 9.30am to 4.15pm, Monday to Saturday (small children must be accompanied by an adult)/Cathedral is open from 8.30am;  COST: £14.50 an adult/£13.50 concessions and students/£5.50 a child (6-18 years)/£34.50 a family of four; WEBSITE: www.stpauls.co.uk