Although some Aesthetic Movement art was was accepted for exhibition at the Royal Academy it was always considered eccentric and was more tolerated than praised. The progressive artists associated with this movement therefore tended to favour more congenial exhibition venues.

The Dudley Gallery was founded in 1864 and held its exhibitions at the Egyptian Hall, Piccadilly, that faced Burlington House. The influential early 19th century architect Peter Frederick Robinson had designed the space in the then fashionable Egyptian style of architecture and ornamentation. It was completed in 1812 to initially house the natural history museum of William Bullock. The hall was also used for popular entertainments like concerts, lectures, and exhibitions, including art works by the likes of Benjamin Robert Haydon and J. M. W. Turner. In the mid-nineteenth century the Earl of Dudley used this space to display his important collection of Old Master paintings while he was building his own gallery at Dudley House in Park Lane. The name the Dudley Gallery, derived from this source, was assigned to the exhibition space by its organizing committee. The Dudley Gallery began with a series of annual exhibitions of watercolour drawings, the first of which opened on February 20, 1865. The idea for such a gallery had first been announced on October 29, 1864 in The Athenaeum. The dates for its exhibitions were chosen so as not to conflict with that of other major exhibiting venues such as the Royal Academy or the Society of Painters in Water Colours (Old Water Colour Society).

Left: The Egyptian Hall, Piccadilly. A. McClatchy. Engraving, 1828. This image has been cropped from the original as has the following photograph, which dates from 1895. Right: The Great Room of the Egyptian Hall. Redesigned by J. B. Papworth in 1819. [Click on images to enlarge them.]

Its twenty-six member founder’s committee included artists who would later become well known, such as Henry Moore, Edward John Poynter, and Simeon Solomon, the influential art critic Tom Taylor, and a large group of collector/connoisseurs. Its Secretary was Walter Severn who would retain his connection with the gallery for the remainder of his life. A guarantee fund of £250 had been secured and its guarantors included such familiar names as John Hungerford Pollen and William Bell Scott.

The aims of this new gallery were well outlined in its first published exhibition catalogue:

The promoters of the Exhibition…have for their object the establishment of a Gallery, which, while exclusively devoted to Drawings as distinguished from Oil Paintings, should not in its use by Exhibitors involve Membership of a Society. These two Conditions are not at present fulfilled by any London Exhibition. The Water Colour Societies reserve their walls entirely for Members, while those Galleries which are comparatively open to all Exhibitors (such as that of the Royal Academy) afford but a limited and subordinate space to all works in other materials than Oil. The Exhibition is, therefore, not that of a new Society, nor is it intended in any way to rival existing Exhibitions. Its establishment has been called for solely by the requirements of very many Artists – requirements of which the reality is evidenced by the large number of works sent in for Exhibition. The promoters trust that the success of this their experiment may be such as to justify the hope they entertain of the Exhibition becoming annual.

The General Exhibition of Water Colour Drawings allowed drawings and sketches of every description, primarily in watercolour or gouache, but they could also be in tempera. Drawings in other media, including chalk, charcoal, pencil, or pen and ink, were allowed, as were prints like etchings and wood engravings. Sculpture was also acceptable, particularly terracotta groups and figures, but not oil paintings or oil sketches. Works that had previously been exhibited were inadmissible. The expenses of running the gallery were to be recouped through a commission of £7 10 shillings on each sale. The promoters and guarantors fortunately needn’t have worried about whether their exhibitions would become an annual event because the Dudley Gallery proved an immediate success.

In 1867 exhibitions of Cabinet Pictures in Oil were added, with these exhibitions being held later in the year than the Water Colour exhibitions. By that time a group of eminent artists, all members or associate members of the Royal Academy, had agreed to assist the Committee in the selection and arrangement of pictures submitted. These included such well-known names as P. H. Calderon, A. Elmore, W. P. Frith, J. F. Lewis, J. E. Millais, F. R. Pickersgill, G. F. Watts, H. T. Wells, and W. F. Yeames. With the exception of Watts none could be considered avant-garde artists. Not just young aspiring artists showed at the Dudley Gallery. Artists who were better known, and occasionally had their works accepted at the Royal Academy, also chose to exhibit at the Dudley Water Colour and Oil exhibitions, particularly those who were dissatisfied with, or held grievances against, the Royal Academy and its exhibition policies. Lawrence Alma-Tadema, James Archer, Edward Burne-Jones, Arthur Hughes, Alphonse Legros, Edward Poynter, Val Prinsep, Simeon Solomon, J. R. S. Stanhope, Henry Wallis, G. F. Watts, and James McNeill Whistler all chose to exhibit there at one time or another.

In the case of Burne-Jones the Dudley Gallery was the only venue he exhibited at following his resignation from the Old Water Colour Society in 1870 and until the opening of the Grosvenor Gallery in 1877. In 1872 he exhibited The Triumph of Fortune, Fame, Oblivion, and Love and in 1873 he showed two paintings Love among the Ruins and The Hesperides. Whistler had never felt welcome at the Royal Academy and found the Dudley Gallery a more sympathetic exhibiting venue. It was here he exhibited his first Nocturnes. Whistler's first Nocturne, Nocturne: Blue and Silver – Chelsea, was exhibited at the 5th Winter Exhibition of Cabinet Pictures in Oil in 1871 as Harmony in Blue-Green while in 1872 he showed Nocturne in Grey and Gold [Nocturne: Blue and Gold – Southampton Water].

From 1872-81 the Dudley Gallery also hosted “Black and White Exhibitions,” the first exhibitions anywhere to be confined to works in black and white alone. Works were allowed in black oil, India ink, sepia ink, black chalk, and charcoal. Prints were also included such as etchings, wood engravings, engraved reproductions, and photomechanical printed illustrations for books and periodicals. These exhibitions proved especially important for artists involved with the burgeoning etching revival movement in England, particularly those would later become founding members of the Society of Painter-Etchers and Engravers. This Society was started in 1880 by Francis Seymour Haden, James Tissot, Alphonse Legros, Heywood Hardy, Hubert Herkomer and Robert Macbeth. Whistler had refused to join, the result of bad feelings between him and his brother-in-law Haden.

Because of the liberal exhibition policies of the Dudley Gallery in admitting artists that were not yet established, its shows tended to be very heterogeneous and uneven in nature. Initially at least no attempt was made to select or control the types of works accepted for display. The Dudley soon developed, however, into the main forum for the younger generation of artists associated with the nascent Aesthetic Movement and it would remain the principal vanguard for this expression of advanced artistic taste until the opening of the Grosvenor Gallery in 1877. The Aesthetic Movement began in the late 1850s and early 1860s as a fusion of the artists associated with the second phase of Pre-Raphaelitism and Aesthetic Classicism. While the leaders of this movement, such as Leighton, Poynter, Whistler, Moore, and Watts might have their works accepted at the Royal Academy, much of the work of the younger generation would not have been welcome on the walls of this institution. Their work did, however, find a congenial home at the Dudley Gallery and it proved "the means of bringing many new artists to the front and to recognition” (Crane 84-85).

In 1870 a critic for The Art Journal recognized the gallery’s importance and wrote: "The strength of the Dudley Gallery has been that it represents not one party, but many parties, that it asserts equal rights for all artists, whether recognized or unrecognized, simply on the basis of individual merit" while still acknowledging that "in the Dudley Gallery, from its first year, originality, genius, eccentricity, have found fair play and favour" (372). Like the Grosvenor Gallery in the 1870s and 1880s, it was the work of the artists associated with the Aesthetic Movement that gave the Dudley Gallery its particular character and notoriety. As John Christian has pointed out, "the Dudley itself had a very definite ethos, and it is quite possible to speak of a ‘Dudley style’. Critics recognized this at the time, dubbing its most characteristic exhibitors the “Poetry Without Grammar School”(49). Other critics labelled this Dudley group of painters “the legendary,” “the archaic” and “the loathly” school, or the “mystico-mediaeval” or “romantico-classic” group. Even landscape painting at the Dudley Gallery tended to be treated in an ornamental fashion by these progressive young artists associated with the second phase of Pre-Raphaelitism, as compared to the hard-edged realism that characterized the treatment of landscape painting during Pre-Raphaelitism’s first phase.

The gallery continued in this format until 1883, when it came under new management, and became the Dudley Gallery Art Society. Up until this time the Dudley Gallery had no regular membership and was open to both professional and amateur artists. When the Dudley Gallery Art Society was founded in 1883 its council members included art critic and writer John Ruskin, and artists Frederick Goodall, William Quiller Orchardson, Walter Paton, George Fripp, Henry Harper, and Walter Severn. In 1905, after the expiry of the Egyptian Hall lease, the building, together with neighbouring properties were demolished and redeveloped.


“Dudley Gallery. Sixth General Exhibition of Drawings.” The Art Journal 9 (1870): 86-88.

Christian, John. British Art on Paper. London: Christie’s (November 28, 2000): lot 43, 49.

Crane, Walter. An Artist’s Reminiscences. London: Methuen & Co., 1907.

Hopkinson, Martin. “The Dudley Gallery’s ‘Black and White’ Exhibitions 1872-81.” Print Quarterly 29 (December 2012): 379-395.

Lanigan, Dennis T. “The Dudley Gallery Water Colour Drawings Exhibitions 1865-1882.” Journal of Pre-Raphaelite Studies 12 (Spring 2003): 74-96.

Lanigan, Dennis T. “The Dudley Gallery 1865-1882: The Principal Forum for the Early Aesthetic Movement” The Review of the Pre-Raphaelite Society 10 (Spring 2002): 18-25.

“The Dudley Gallery.“ The Saturday Review. 30 (November 5, 1870): 594-95.

Last modified 29 May 2022