42 years of Bankside Gallery

According to Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, the number 42 is the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything.


...Well, on Bankside Gallery's 42nd birthday we are no closer to understanding any of that - but we will revel in the significance of the number all the same!


Over the past 42 years, we've had two visits from Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, countless exhibitions by inspiring artists both established and emerging, lots of fun events and educational workshops, and a number of collaborations with major London organisations including the Royal Albert Hall and Chelsea Physic Garden. From royalty to drag queens, we've seen it all!


Here are some highlights...



Royal Visits



The Royal opening of Bankside Gallery - 1980

Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II graciously opened Bankside Gallery on 11 November 1980 when the Royal Watercolour Society (RWS) and Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers (RE) moved from the West End into their new home on the Thames Path. Bankside Gallery was at the forefront of the creation of a new cultural quarter, joined first by the Globe Theatre in 1997 and subsequently by Tate Modern in 2000 as well as many other brilliant cultural organisations since.




Queen Elizabeth II visits Bankside Gallery to mark the Bicentenary of the Royal Watercolour Society - 2004

In 2004 the Royal Watercolour Society (RWS) celebrated its Bicentenary as the second oldest artistic society within Great Britain (after the Royal Academy) and the oldest watercolour society in the world. It was founded by a group of mainly young artists who wished to trumpet the glory of painting in watercolour at a time when it was deemed a minor art form by the art establishment. 


The Society was granted the title of ‘Royal’ in 1881 by Queen Victoria, herself a keen watercolourist and the Royal connection has continued all the way through to the 21st century with Queen Elizabeth II having been patron of the Society and HRH The Prince of Wales, now King Charles III, as an Honorary Member.


On 18 February 2004, Queen Elizabeth II and The Duke of Edinburgh honoured the gallery with a visit in celebration of the Bicentenary of the Royal Watercolour Society. They visited the opening exhibition of the year “Then & Now: Our Watercolour Tradition”, meeting artists including June Berry RWS Hon. RE, Francis Bowyer PPRWS Hon. RE and Richard Bawden RWS RE, as well as other patrons and supporters of the Society.



Remarkable Collaborations



Collaboration between Bankside Gallery and Network Rail - 2010

In 2010, Bankside Gallery took part in a unique partnership with Network Rail and Cass Art, running a competition that celebrated London’s energy, diversity and originality. The final 100 shortlisted entrants were invited to exhibit their work at Bankside Gallery in September 2010. The winner of the art competition also had a large-scale reproduction of their work featured on Blackfriars Bridge for a year.




Collaboration between Bankside Gallery and the Royal Albert Hall - 2011

The Royal Albert Hall collaborated with the Royal Watercolour Society (RWS) in 2011 to commission a year in the life of the Hall through a series of watercolour paintings, displayed as part of the Hall’s Reflect exhibition series between April and June 2011.


Over the course of the year, members of the RWS responded to the sounds, drama and visual excitement both inside and outside the Royal Albert Hall. They captured the events and their audiences as they happened, from grand events like the Remembrance Day Service and the Last Night of the Proms, to intimate jazz in the café, brass bands and ballroom competitions.


This exhibition was unique not only in the medium in which it was captured, but also in the different perspectives of the building that it explored. The project represented the first time that artists were able to study backstage and behind the scenes of the working venue. The result, a collection of large watercolours, provided a captivating, evocative and vibrant portrait of all aspects of life at the Royal Albert Hall, including its many and varied performances, but also its staff, restaurants, and even the boiler room in the depths of the building.




Collaboration between Bankside Gallery and the Royal Horticultural Society - 2014

Bankside Gallery presented Cultivation & Creativity, an exhibition that showcased works featuring the four Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) gardens as seen by Royal Watercolour Society (RWS) artists. Works reflected the changing seasons and the life of the gardens, and the exhibition displayed an exciting and diverse range of responses, from the figurative to the abstract.


RWS artists also exhibited their paintings at The Glasshouse Gallery at RHS Wisley in November 2014, as well as displaying a selection of their works in the RHS Great London Plant Fair in April 2015 at the Royal Horticultural Halls in London.




Collaboration between Bankside Gallery and the Globe Theatre - 2016

Bankside Gallery ran an exhibition in 2016 in collaboration with the Globe Theatre that celebrated William Shakespeare’s life and legacy, marking the 400th anniversary of his death. Over 80 artists from the Royal Watercolour Society (RWS) and Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers (RE) created paintings and original prints inspired not only by Shakespeare’s writings, but also by this birthplace, his theatres and even the plants that feature in his plays. The exhibition was a celebration of the abundant inspiration that the playwright left us, inspiration that continues to grip generations of artists that have followed him.


Featured artists Mark Raggett VPRWS (Artistic Director on the 1999 film Shakespeare in Love) and Mychael Barratt PPRE Hon. RWS (Globe Artist in Residence during Mark Rylance’s tenure) were granted access to the Globe and made work from within the theatre, as well as work inspired by it.


A selection of works were also exhibited in the UnderGlobe, located underneath Shakespeare’s Globe, between June and August 2016.




Collaboration between Bankside Gallery and Chelsea Physic Garden - 2021

Towards the end of 2019, Bankside Gallery and Chelsea Physic Garden met to discuss the possibility of running a garden-themed exhibition. Chelsea Physic Garden invited selected artists of the Royal Watercolour Society (RWS) and Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers (RE) to record a year in the life of this stunning and important garden, the results of which would be exhibited at Bankside Gallery.


As was the case all too often in 2020, our plans ground to a halt in March 2020 when Chelsea Physic Garden was forced to temporarily close its doors. Fortunately, many of the artists had already made several visits and were able to make work from their preliminary research and sketches. As soon as the doors reopened, the artists returned, seeing both the garden and the project as a wonderful refuge from the challenges of the pandemic.


Over the course of the 18 months, the artists researched, visited (when possible) and recorded the garden throughout changing seasons and varying restrictions, documenting perhaps one of the most extraordinary years of the Garden’s life. The result was a compelling, uplifting and vibrant display of creativity and a wonderful example of what can be achieved in the face of adversity; a reminder of the joys and healing powers of both art and nature.



Memorable Events



'Your London' Event at Bankside Gallery - 2013

This fun, free art workshop was run during half term in 2013, whereby an outline of London's skyline was drawn onto paper and stuck to the outside of the gallery - children were encouraged to come and draw what they loved most about London to create an uplifting collaborative mural.




'The Masters' Exhibition Private View at Bankside Gallery - 2017

For this particular Private View of The Masters, an open submission competition run by the Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers (RE), we were treated to a live performance by Miss Hope Springs, who sung a specially commissioned song about monoprint. The evening was truly a one-off!




'Pop up paint party' at Bankside Gallery - 2017

This drop-in event at Bankside Gallery encouraged participants to break the boundaries of working in water-based media, painting from elaborate still lives and distinctively dressed models. Professional artists including Shanti Panchal Hon. RWS, Gerry Baptist RWS RE, Jim Hunter RWS, Julia Midgley RWS RE and Gertie Young RWS, were on hand to advise, inspire and demonstrate. There were even savoury treats provided by GAIL’s Artisan Bakery!




'Halloween Drink & Draw' at Bankside Gallery - 2017

Another memorable and jolly event was our Halloween-themed Drink & Draw evening, where participants could try their hand at sketching from a hauntingly-dressed model whilst enjoying a hair-raising beverage.




LOOP Exhibition Private View at Bankside Gallery - 2022

LOOP are an informal cooperative of artists with a background in original print, and for over ten years they have held annual exhibitions at Bankside Gallery. For the Private View of their exhibition in 2022, we were thrilled to be served drinks by a cyberman!



Spectacular Exhibitions & Fundraisers



J.M.W. Turner Exhibition at Bankside Gallery - 1980

This photograph shows the Private View of our inaugural show of JMW Turner’s drawings and watercolours of British river scenes from the British Museum.




'Below the Surface' Exhibition at Bankside Gallery - 2004

In the Bicentenary year of the Royal Watercolour Society (RWS), this exhibition unveiled some little-known facts and anecdotes in the history of the Society, the people, the places and the stories of its first two hundred years. For example, John Ruskin once said that his happiest times as a critic had been spent in the RWS Galleries. On display were works by major artists such as Samuel Palmer, Edward Burne-Jones and John Singer Sargent alongside works by lesser known figures which have rarely or never been exhibited publicly before.




'Agatha Christie' Exhibition at Bankside Gallery - 2015

This exhibition of photographs offering a new insight into the life of Agatha Christie was held at Bankside Gallery in 2015, marking the 125th anniversary of the Queen of Crime.


Featuring never-before-seen photographs from the author’s private collection, ‘Agatha Christie: Unfinished Portrait’ illustrated the life behind the works of the most widely published author of all time.


Each image was accompanied by a quote in Christie’s own words, drawn from both published works and unpublished personal correspondence, beautifully capturing her thoughts and feelings from early childhood, through both marriages and her international adventures, to her years as a world famous author.


The jewel in the crown of the exhibition was a portrait of Agatha Christie by expressionist painter Oscar Kokoschka, painted in 1969 for Dame Agatha’s 80th birthday.




George Butler Exhibition at Bankside Gallery - 2018

In 2018, Bankside Gallery hosted a unique exhibition of work by the award-winning reportage illustrator George Butler, which focused on human and animal migration and the intrinsic connection of living things.


This exhibition traced the living contours of the earth in a bid to show parts of the world where migration is part of everyday life.


George’s desire to record scenes in ink has meant he has witnessed some extraordinary moments – refugees huddled round fires in a Belgrade warehouse, the mass movement of wildebeest on the plains of the Masai Mara, children playing on bombed-out tanks, families searching through the rubble of their destroyed homes in Mosul and the annual migration of flamingos.


“The drawings are of more everyday experiences than those on our front pages. They are of unfolding scenes of habits, creatures, people on the move and the stories they tell.” – George Butler




'Print REbels' Exhibition at Bankside Gallery - 2018

Print REbels was an exhibition celebrating the 200th anniversary of the birth of the founder and first President of the Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers (RE), Sir Francis Seymour Haden. A prestigious collection of works was brought together to show prints produced by Haden along with those who inspired him such as Rembrandt and Dürer, and his contemporaries, including Samuel Palmer and JAM Whistler.


When the RE was founded in 1880, artists such as Haden, Palmer and Whistler were considered revolutionary in their championing of printmaking as a creative medium at a time when it was not recognised as an art form on the same level as painting and sculpture. Haden and Whistler are credited with instigating the Etching Revival, an art movement that lasted 75 years.


Members of the RE were invited to produce a new print that responded directly to their Society's heritage. Each artist chose another RE member, past or present, or one of the other artists involved in the Society’s history, who inspired them as a printmaker. Twenty five of these works were chosen for a Print REbels box set by Jenny Ramkalawon, Assistant Keeper of Prints and Drawings at the British Museum.




'Deep Dive' Exhibition of works by Laurel Holloman at Bankside Gallery - 2022

Laurel Holloman is an American painter and actor known for her striking large-scale paintings and vibrant use of colour. Renowned for her iconic roles on The L Word and in The Incredibly True Adventures of Two Girls in Love, Laurel Holloman moved away from the acting world in 2010 to pursue a career in art. Now a prolific painter, she has had two solo shows at Bankside Gallery, as well as exhibitions in Venice, Paris, Amstelveen and Berlin.


For her second solo exhibition at Bankside Gallery in 2022, Laurel took a ‘deep dive’ into the exploration of water and land and our relationship and connection to the earth.




Bankside Gallery's Art Fundraiser in aid of Ukraine - 2022

In March 2022, in response to the horrific events in Ukraine, Bankside Gallery launched an online art fundraiser with 100% of the proceeds going to the Disasters Emergency Committee’s Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal.


This exhibition was made up of a brilliant selection of paintings and original prints, all of which were very generously donated by artists of the Royal Watercolour Society (RWS) and Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers (RE).


We were blown away by the support and generosity of artists and buyers alike. In total we managed to raise a whopping £23,858 for the Disasters Emergency Committee’s Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal.



'Quentin Blake & Linda Kitson: Portraits in Ballpoint | From Sketch Pad to iPad' Exhibition at Bankside Gallery - 2022

For the first time in their careers, lifelong friends Sir Quentin Blake and Linda Kitson are showcasing their recent work in a joint exhibition at Bankside Gallery from 9 - 20 November 2022.


The two artists first met over 50 years ago at the Royal College of Art (RCA), and have been close friends ever since, but this is the first time they have ever displayed their work together, side by side.


Quentin is displaying a series of portraits made using Bic Soft Feel and Bic Crystal pens. Having recently discovered the "rewarding possibilities of drawing with the humble biro", Quentin's Bic pen drawings have pushed the boundaries of what one might consider to be a typical tool for drawing. In his own words, "Why should not something that makes a mark become an art implement?". 


Linda – who, in the 1982 Falklands War, became the first woman war artist to accompany troops in combat – is showcasing two aspects of her artistic practice: landscapes sketched on travels in Europe and Canada in the 1970s and 1980s, and buildings and cityscapes in the bustling City of London in the 2000s, captured in vibrant colours on an iPad.

October 27, 2022