Art historian Christoph Vogtherr says that Dulwich Picture Gallery has ‘always had a special place in his heart’.
In a new audio introduction he explains that he discovered the gallery as a student, and that visiting it still ‘feels like an adventure every time’. Whenever he visits, he says, he turns in from Gallery Road and pauses for a moment by the gates, waiting for the building’s secrets to reveal themselves.
Christoph, director of the Wallace Collection since 2011, chose Dulwich Picture Gallery when he was invited to take part in the ‘London Beyond Sight’ project, a series of 40 short audio introductions. In each one, a notable Londoner introduces a favourite place, describing what can be seen and evoking how it feels to be there. Among the actors, musicians, politicians, journalists, campaigners and sports people who contributed were Barbara Windsor, David Harewood and Derek Jacobi; trumpet-player Alison Balsom and Radio 1 DJ Rob da Bank; Alastair Stewart and Lloyd Grossman.
Not all the contributors talk about landmark buildings: Alison Steadman chose the pelicans in St James’s Park and Shami Chakrabarti the view from Parliament Hill, while choreographer Siobhan Davies describes the graceful tower cranes dancing over building sites around King’s Cross.
The Londoners recorded for the project describe the look of a place, taking in wide views and small details. The recordings are designed to open up the visual features of a landmark for blind or partially sighted visitors, but they are of equal interest to sighted people, often offering a new perspective on a familiar place.
Christoph’s introduction to Dulwich Picture Gallery, for example, encourages listeners to linger in the grounds – looking at how the building unfolds in space – rather than heading straight inside, and to think about the tactile and acoustic qualities of the different rooms. He explains why Sir John Soane’s design for the first purpose-built art gallery in England was so innovative, and how it still influences the architecture of contemporary galleries.
Each of the Londoners in these recordings worked alongside an audio describer from the charity Vocaleyes. Specialising in live audio description for theatre, Vocaleyes also describes buildings – both old and new – around the country, and offers tours as part of Open House London and the London Festival of Architecture. You can find details of forthcoming shows and tours on their website www.vocaleyes.co.uk or sign up to receive a regular ‘What’s On’ newsletter by email or in large print, Braille or on audio CD.
The London Beyond Sight recordings last for five to ten minutes and are available to listen or for free download from www.vocaleyes.co.uk/londonbeyondsight.
There’s another link between the Dulwich Picture Gallery and the Wallace Collection this spring, as both feature the work of the seventeenth-century Spanish artist Murillo: ‘Murillo and Justino de Neve: The Art of Friendship’ showing at the Dulwich Picture Gallery until 19 May, and ‘Murillo at the Wallace Collection: Painting of the Spanish Golden Age’ is at the Wallace Collection until 12 May.