The Somerset House in London

Saturday, 22 March 2014 - 01:00 pm (CET/MEZ) Berlin | Author/Destination:
Category/Kategorie: General, London, Museums, Exhibitions, Palaces, Castles, Manors, Parks

© Jan van der Crabben/cc-by-sa-2.0

© Jan van der Crabben/cc-by-sa-2.0

Somerset House is a large Neoclassical building situated on the south side of the Strand in central London overlooking the River Thames, just east of Waterloo Bridge. The building, originally the site of a Tudor palace, was designed by Sir William Chambers in 1776, and further extended with Victorian wings to the north and south. The East Wing forms part of the adjacent King’s College London.

In the sixteenth century, the north bank of the Thames between London and Westminster was a favoured site for the mansions of the nobility. In 1539, Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford, obtained a grant of land at “Chester Place, outside Temple Bar, London” from King Henry VIII. When the boy-king Edward VI came to the throne in 1547, Seymour became Duke of Somerset and Lord Protector. About 1549 he pulled down an old Inn of Chancery and other houses that stood on the site and began to build himself a truly imposing residence. It was a two storey house built around a quadrangle with a gateway rising to three stories and was one of the earliest examples of Renaissance architecture in England. It is not known who designed the building. Before it was finished, however, Somerset created too many enemies for himself in the Council. In the struggle for power he was overthrown and in 1552 and was executed at Tower Hill. “Somerset Place” then came into the possession of the Crown. The future Queen Elizabeth I lived there during the reign of her half-sister, Queen Mary I. The process of completion and improvement was slow and costly. As late as 1598 Stow refers to it as “yet unfinished”.

from Victoria Embankment © Adrian Pingstone Ice Rink © geograph.org.uk - Danny Robinson/cc-by-sa-2.0 Entrance to the Courtauld Gallery © Mike Peel - www.mikepeel.net/cc-by-sa-2.5 from The Strand © geograph.org.uk - Stephen Richards/cc-by-sa-2.0 © Jan van der Crabben/cc-by-sa-2.0
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Entrance to the Courtauld Gallery © Mike Peel - www.mikepeel.net/cc-by-sa-2.5
As well as the Royal Academy, and the Government Art School, Somerset House was fitted out to house the Royal Society and the Society of Antiquaries. These, and the Geological Society, moved to Burlington House in Piccadilly in the early 19th century.

In the late 20th century the building was reinvigorated as a centre for the visual arts. The first institution to move in was the Courtauld Institute of Art, including the Courtauld Gallery, which has an important collection of old master and impressionist paintings. In the late 1990s the main courtyard ceased to be a civil service carpark, and the main terrace overlooking the Thames was refurbished and opened to the public, these alterations being overseen by the leading conservation architects Donald Insall & Associates. A visitor centre featuring audiovisual displays on the history of the building; the gilded state barge of the Lord Mayor of the City of London; and a shop and café were opened in the wing overlooking the river. The Gilbert Collection of decorative arts, and the Hermitage Rooms, which stage exhibitions of items loaned from the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, moved into the same area. The last Hermitage exhibition took place in 2007 and the Gilbert Collection galleries closed in 2008; the collection moved into new galleries at the Victoria and Albert Museum in June 2009. Somerset House now puts on a programme of art exhibitions drawing on various sources.

Read more on Somerset House, London Fashion Week, London Fashion Weekend and Wikipedia Somerset House (Smart Traveler App by U.S. Department of State). Photos by Wikimedia Commons. If you have a suggestion, critique, review or comment to this blog entry, we are looking forward to receive your e-mail at comment@wingsch.net. Please name the headline of the blog post to which your e-mail refers to in the subject line.




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