I had absolutely no context for my visit to Dulwich Picture Gallery. I had found the facts of the place (almost two hundred years old, supported by the community, a hidden gem), but what I discovered when I stepped into the grand, deceptively simple building was something new.
My own conceptions of a gallery leaned more towards the contemporary, exploratory exhibits that break the mold and give new talents the opportunity for greatness; although Dulwich Picture Gallery was about the same size and currently running the Open Exhibition, the art seemed more like what I would expect to find in a museum. Gainsborough, Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Raphael: it felt as if I had wondered into the rooms of an old aristocrats personal collection (a historically accurate sentiment). Here, there is an aura of accessibility, comfort, and aesthetic. The pleasure in the art takes forefront, and, with such a well-chosen collection, it is impossible not to find something that denotes a pause. The atmosphere is relaxed, people commenting when they see something that catches their eye, babies and children walking through distractedly, art appreciation taken from the tourists and the professors and given to the public at large. The lofty pretension of great art has been stripped away.
Yet the painting collection of the Gallery is spectacular. Not only is there a great deal of variety, masters from a number of nations and eras, but the paintings are spectacular, each alone worth the visit. The Gainsborough portraits particularly impressed me. I had never had the privilege of viewing on of his pieces in person; the realization of his skill was profound. Elizabeth and Mary Linley were incredibly fortunate he immortalized them on canvas, almost inconceivably delicately. “A Girl at a Window” also caught my eye, as it inevitably would as one of the Gallery’s best known pieces. The rosy details of the girl’s face stand in stark contrast to the dark background, accented by Rembrandt’s usual genius for creating light and dark. Gelder’s “Jacob’s Dream” caused me to pause as well Nicolaes Berchem’s “Traveling Peasants” and van Dyck’s “Samson and Delilah”. The Gallery allows for just such discovery.
Dulwich Picture Gallery is open until 5pm every day except Monday. For more information, visit their website: www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk