By the river in leafy southwest London, situated within charming woodland, you'll find Orleans House Gallery, a delightful contemporary art gallery and one of London's hidden cultural gems.
The site stands on the grounds of the former Orleans House (pictured on the right-hand side of the above painting) which was built in 1710 by architect John James as a riverside residence for Scottish diplomat James Johnston. The house was one of many notable estates along this stretch of the Thames in the eighteenth century.
The name Orleans is taken from Louis Phillipe Duc d'Orleans (1773–1850) who lived there during his exile from France. The house was demolished in 1926 but parts of the property, including the glorious baroque Octagon Room (on the left of the painting), were saved by wealthy local art collector and philanthropist, the Hon. Mrs Nellie Ionides. Ionides bequeathed the buildings, along with her own collection of art, to the borough, forming the core of what is now the Richmond Borough Art Collection.
In 1972, Orleans House Gallery opened to the public as the home of the borough's art collection, an eclectic mix of artworks and objects that tell the story of Richmond upon Thames and its people from the eighteenth century to the present day. The gallery is also a vibrant cultural hub, offering a thriving creative programme of activities and events for the local community and beyond.
On Friday 28th October 2022, Art UK headed to the Gallery for our first in-person Work Experience Alumni meet-up. Members enjoyed an afternoon of peer-to-peer networking and a personal tour of the Gallery and its latest exhibition, 'Lines of Dissent', from Beatrice McDermott (Programme and Partnerships Manager).
Curated by multi-disciplinary artist Dzifa Benson, the exhibition explores the untold stories hidden within Richmond Borough Art Collection and invites contemporary artists across visual art, theatre, music, poetry and dance to uncover the legacies of these works.
Exploring themes of colonisation, love, resilience, migration, trade and architecture, the exhibition aims to ensure a more inclusive future by addressing who and what has been excluded from the collection to expose past injustices and present inequalities.
Acting as a live laboratory, visitors are invited to respond to and engage with the works – one piece allows visitors to contribute words towards a giant exquisite corpse poem. Such interactions enable new perspectives to be realised, helping shape the way the artworks in the Richmond Borough Art Collection are thought about.
'I really loved the intention behind Dzifa's exhibition, the tour of the gallery, getting to see behind the scenes in the art store, that felt quite special' – Suky, Alumni member
Alumni members also had a chance to learn more and experience the behind-the-scenes workings of the Gallery with a sneak peek into the art store, where artworks are organised, protected and preserved. They also explored the Study Gallery, an accessible research space highlighting items from the collection.
Reflecting on the experience, Alumni member Hanyu said, 'I think the most impressive thing about the gallery is that the historical part of the building is preserved, and they built a new gallery around it. It's beautiful and the pictures and paintings about the local community's history are very meaningful and interesting to look at.'
Alumni member Suky said, 'I really enjoyed meeting up with the other alumni and finding out what they're up to now, giving each other career advice as well as discussing our favourite art and the latest exhibitions.'
Art UK's Work Experience Alumni Network was created to bring together former participants of our Summer Work Experience Programme and offer opportunities for engagement, networking and support with careers in the arts.
Hana Basi, HR, Operations and Resourcing Officer
'Lines of Dissent' at Orleans House Gallery runs until 15th January 2023
You can explore the Richmond upon Thames Borough Art Collection on Art UK