I Never Knew That About London Either
There’s a hole at the centre of London’s artistic history, and it’s most noticeable when you walk around the National Gallery. Because just where you think art would be at its richest, at the dawn of the Age of Enlightenment, there’s bugger all.
Of course it all comes down to Henry VIII. The Dissolution of the Monasteries brought the destruction of all Catholic art in its wake, and from the second half of the 16th century to the end of the 18th century there was no Catholic worship (or Protestant Non-conformism), so no churches.
But there was an exception. If the land belonged to one of the embassies of Catholic countries, the priests were protected by diplomatic immunity. And so we are left with Our Lady of The Assumption and St Gregory in Warwick St, Soho, one of the oddest churches I can think of and London’s only surviving embassy chapel.
In order to avoid public outrage, the church was hidden in plain sight by making the exterior as dowdy and unchurchlike as possible. Sealed behind thick brown bricks and steel doors, it looks like a series of residential terraced houses from the outside, but within is a richly decorated apse covered in shining stars.
London caters for everyone, so if you think to yourself, ‘Why isn’t there an art gallery dedicated to Italian futurist painting?’ you clearly haven’t been to the Esoterick at Highbury Corner.
Admittedly Highbury Corner is not a place you’s ever visit willingly, unless you’d agreed to meet friends at ‘Stabbies’, the Wetherspoons pub on the corner dedicated to drunken physical violence among the terminally thick. But nearby is the art collection, all white and gleaming; the Esoterick is in a Grade II listed Georgian town house, and has six galleries and an art library.
The Collection is known internationally for its core of Futurist works, as well as figurative art and sculpture dating from 1890 to the 1950s. It’s just that I didn’t know about it until I started researching the new book. Just two examples of what you can see if you push a door in London.