London Art Week, a six-day festival where art adrenaline courses through the veins of St James’s and Mayfair, kicks off on Sunday, December 1. Galleries and auction houses across both areas throw open their arty doors to the public with 32 exhibitions dedicated to pre-contemporary art. There’s also a range of events and talks, most of which are free. Here’s a guide to visiting (and surviving) London Art Week.
Where do I start?
Whatever you do, don’t be shy! The whole point of London Art Week is to knock on doors, ring on bells and have fun perusing – even if you’re simply art curious. Think of the event as a collection of free mini-museums where you can you can browse, buy or banter.
Download the London Art Week Winter 2019 map, designed by Adam Dant. Some of the galleries are located in hidden alleys, whilst some are several floors up in what appear to be residential buildings. Wear comfortable shoes and take a brolly. I would also take a shoulder bag in which you can stash brochures.
Can I afford it?
Most of the works you’ll see at London Art Week are for sale, with prices starting below £1,000. Art dealers are on hand to share their expertise with you and to answer any questions. At Guy Peppiatt Fine Art, you can buy pieces from as little as £350 from a collection of 100 drawings and watercolours.
What are some of the highlights?
You’ll have to climb up a few flights of stairs to see this gem: a newly discovered early Pre-Raphaelite painting owned by Prime Minister William Gladstone at Bagshawe Fine Art. Slender’s Wooing of Ann Page is a Shakespearian scene from The Merry Wives of Windsor. The piece is by Adolphus Madot who was a student at the Royal Academy and died of consumption when he was only 25. The painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy where it was subsequently bought by Gladstone.
A sumptuous collection of portraits by Sir Anthony Van Dyck are on display at The Weiss Gallery. The star attraction is The Mary Barber, later Lady Jermyn (which is asking £850,000).
A glorious portrait of the young Queen Elizabeth I is on display at Bonhams.
The Ordovas gallery is exhibiting works by Yves Tanguy and Jean Arp which were once on display at Peggy Guggenheim’s avantgarde modern art gallery, Guggenheim Jeune. Her original gallery was located on Cork Street and included ground-breaking pieces from the likes of Dali, Moore, Picasso and Kandinsky. Guggenheim discovered a 15 year-old Lucian Freud and included his work in an exhibition entitled Children.
A trio of white marble angels originally made for the great reredos of St. Paul’s Cathedral, London is over in Trinity Fine Art. Installed in 1888, it was dismantled after the Second World War and subsequently largely destroyed.
One for Londoness, please
Here’s what I would like for Christmas: a painting of French couturier extraordinaire Jacques Fath. He dressed everyone from Eva Perón to Ava Gardner and Rita Hayworth (she wore one of his dresses to her wedding to the Aga Khan). He also made all the costumes for Moira Shearer in the sublime film, Red Shoes. You can buy it for me from Bagshawe Fine Art.
Go see a talk
Most of London Art Week’s talks are free. Try Jewellery in Costume in the time of Charles I. The Weiss Gallery Director will be discussing seventeenth century bling with fashion historian, Professor Aileen Ribeiro and Senior Curator at the Museum of London, Hazel Forsyth.
Over at Colnaghi, Jennifer Scott, Director of the Dulwich Picture Gallery, will be talking about the exhibition Rembrandt’s Light.
The London Art Week Symposium’s theme is Conversations on Collecting. Held in collaboration with the National Gallery, the Symposium consists of three panel discussions where speakers will be discussing the many aspects of collecting. Attendance is free but you must book in advance.
Take a break
There are plenty of places to stop off for a restorative cuppa or for something stronger. The Wolesley does a great breakfast, Bentley’s has some of the best oysters in town, and Fortnum and Mason is the place for tea. Head over to Duke’s Bar for its world-famous martinis and if you fancy heading back in time, book at table at Wilton’s for dinner.
St James’s and Mayfair have some of the best Christmas decorations in town, so whatever you do, don’t forget to look up as you wander around. And if you’re in need of more enrichment, you could head into Hatchards and gaze at the beautiful art books. For extra art inspiration, head into the Royal Academy where you can browse for free (and it’s the perfect place to stop if you need the loo!)
London Art week runs from December 1 to 6 in various galleries across St James’s and Mayfair. More information here.