The most extensive collection of large-scale London paintings in the world will open
at the City of London Corporation’s Guildhall Art Gallery from Friday 10 February.
The Big City: London painted on a grand scale celebrates the exceptional talent of
19 artists and showcases some of the largest paintings in the Gallery’s collection,
including works that are not normally on public display.
At the heart of The Big City exhibition will be a series of pieces by David Hepher, on
display in London for the first time. The works were gifted to the City Corporation by
the artist in 2022 and is the largest donation in the Gallery’s recent history.
Hepher’s career spans over six decades and for the last 40 years, his practice has
focused almost exclusively on London, in particular, the inner-city estates of the
1960s and 1970s.
Hepher’s urban landscapes explore the scale and austere grandeur of post-war
social planning and urban regeneration. Painted on a monumental scale and across
multiple panels, his works can take up to one year to complete. His paintings are
large-scale and ambitious, conveying his technical skill and trademark style:
painstakingly detailed and true-to-life paintings of concrete tower blocks,
incorporating visual signs of urban decay.
Graffiti tags, based on Hepher’s own observations, adorn the paintings in various
colours, while the canvases themselves are primed with a mixture of concrete, PVA,
and wood to create the illusion of tower-block walls, onto which Hepher has applied
paint to mimic the small streams of slime that often stain concrete structures.
The exhibition also includes a four-piece panel installation by John Bartlett – one of
the largest items in the show – and gigantic works of art from Frank O. Salisbury and
Terence Cuneo that have never been displayed side-by-side.
Guildhall Art Gallery is home to one of the world’s most extensive collections of
London paintings and one of the largest oil paintings on display in the UK – John
Singleton Copley’s, Defeat of the Floating Batteries at Gibraltar (1783– 1791),
measuring 7.5 x 5.4 metres).
“It is usually very challenging for art galleries to showcase so many paintings of this
size at the same time and in one area, so ‘The Big City’ will provide a unique, not to
say, positively overwhelming, experience for visitors.
“Given the scale of some of these huge masterpieces, some may even feel that they
are in the painting, rather than viewing it.
“I am looking forward to hearing encouraging feedback from the team behind the
Chair of the City of London Corporation’s Culture, Heritage, and Libraries
Committee, Wendy Hyde
The Big City will open on Friday 10 February on a ‘pay what you can’ basis. Curator-
led and guided tours will also be available to book daily during the exhibition.
The City of London Corporation, which owns and manages Guildhall Art Gallery, is
the fourth largest funder of heritage and cultural activities in the UK and invests over
£130m every year.