The New Whitechapel Art Gallery
Joseph Pennell (1857-1926)
Illustration for Walter Besant's East London (London: Chatto & Windus, 1901), p. 336.
This is one of Pennell's illustrations for Besant's last chapter, "The Helping Hand." Besant himself only refers to the annual art exhibitions held by Canon Barnett of nearby St Jude's, and not to the recently completed Art Gallery. Financed by benefactors, of whom the most important was the philanthropist John Passmore Edwards, this was built in 1897-9 to the design of Charles Harrison Townsend. It was natural, of course, that Pennell should want to showcase the new art gallery. The venture was to be an outstanding success: over 200,000 people attended the first exhibition, and the gallery would continue to promote local talent as well as contemporary art in general. The artist and World War I poet Isaac Rosenberg would be just one of the many promising East Enders to exhibit their work there. The gallery is still open, and, having acquired the adjacent building (the old Whitechapel Library, also funded by Passmore Edwards), is in the process of a major expansion.
Scanned image and text by Jacqueline Banerjee
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