I have no idea why 120 years is a suitable landmark to celebrate, but well done Tower Bridge for reaching this apparently significant age. While the anniversary may be slightly tenuous the exhibition to coincide with it at Guildhall Art Gallery is a wonderful mixture of history, art and engineering. Well, it is mostly art, but art that should satisfy the more historically curious among us.
Utilising very different rooms in the gallery to where the brilliant Victoriana was shown, you are drawn into a large, fairly ‘civic’ space, which I actually really liked. As there were only one or two other people in there I felt like I was walking around a large private collection, but one where the paintings themselves and the exhibition labels are very much aimed at the public, with lots of good information that adds real context to what you are looking at.
For instance, the first painting is a large scale depiction of The Opening Ceremony of the Tower Bridge,1894-5 (William Lionel Wyllie), and the paintings that follow include the bridge c.1905 showing dock workers and barges emphasising the working life of the bridge and river (The Tower Bridge, about 1905, Frank William Brangwyn ARA); the bridge during the Blitz (Blitz, Our London Docks, 1940, Charles Pears) where we are told that the Germans used the bridge as a navigational landmark and so never bombed it; and so on until the modern day paintings such as Forever Imagical Tower Bridge, 2014 (Mentor Chico) with tourist boats, red buses, The Gherkin and all the things that make London what it is today, linked by the iconic image of Tower Bridge.
In the second room the historian and engineer in you will really get their thrills. Here you will find original photographs of the bridge under construction, when the towers had been built but the walkways didn’t quite meet, perhaps how it would have looked in the 1940s if the Germans had begun bombing it. And on the walls are original drawings for the construction of the bridge including some of the submissions entered in the competition to design a new bridge.
I had a great time walking around this exhibition, it was peaceful, interesting, with lots of good art and good history to boot.
Guildhall Art Gallery
Guildhall Yard (off Gresham Street), London, EC2V 5AE
Until 30 June 2014
Monday – Saturday 10am – 5pm
Sunday 12 noon – 4pm