Inventory Site Record

Dulwich Picture Gallery

Dulwich Picture Gallery (Southwark)

Brief Description

Dulwich Picture Gallery, probably Britain's first purpose-built public art gallery, was founded in 1811 through the bequest of Sir Francis Bourgeois. He left his collection of pictures to Alleyn's College of God's Gift in Dulwich, stipulating that it should be publicly available and that Sir John Soane should design the building for its display. The Picture Gallery opened to the public in 1817 and adjacent is Christ's Chapel of God's Gift of 1616. The gallery is surrounded by gardens with lawn and a collection of fine trees including black mulberry, a dawn redwood and a Judas tree.

Practical Information
Site location:
College Road/Gallery Road, Dulwich Village
SE21 7AD
Type of site:
Public Gardens;, Institutional Grounds
Open to public?
Opening times:
Tues-Fri 10am-5pm; Sat/Sun/Bank Hols: 11am-5pm Has taken part in Open Garden Squares Weekend in the past.
Special conditions:
Admission charge to Gallery
Shop, Café, Toilets
Various events connected to Gallery, including temporary exhibitions, education projects, plus musical events. Has participated in OGSW
Public transport:
Rail: West Dulwich/North Dulwich. Bus: P4, 3, 37, P13

The information shown above was correct at the time of the last update 01/10/2010
Please check with the site owner or manager for latest news.

Full Site Description

Dulwich Picture Gallery, probably Britain's first purpose-built public art gallery, was founded in 1811 as a result of the bequest of Sir Francis Bourgeois, who on his death left his collection of pictures to Alleyn's College of God's Gift in Dulwich. In his will he stipulated that the collection should be publicly available and that the architect commissioned to design the building for its display should be Sir John Soane, for the erection of which Bourgeois left £2,000. Bourgeois, himself a painter, together with his friend Noël Desenfans and Desenfans' wife Margaret Morris, worked in partnership as art dealers and in 1790 had been commissioned to create a collection for the King of Poland. Following the King's abdication in 1795 after the partitioning of Poland, Bourgeois and the Desenfans were left with this 'Royal Collection', which they supplemented with further purchases. Unable to sell it as a collection, they decided to bequeath it to the nation, but rejected the only suitable repository, the British Museum, whose trustees Bourgeois deemed too 'arbitrary' and 'aristocratic'. Instead the collection was donated to Alleyn's College of God's Gift, the charitable foundation established by Edward Alleyn in 1619.

Edward Alleyn was a well-known Elizabethan actor-manager and impresario, who also put on bull- and bear-baiting, as a result of which he had been appointed Joint Master of the Royal Bears, Bulls and Mastiff Dogs in 1604. By now a wealthy man, he bought the Manor of Dulwich in 1605 although he continued to live in London until 1613, staying at Dulwich in the summer. He then decided to establish a charitable foundation in Dulwich to be endowed with his property at Dulwich and elsewhere. Following the foundation of Alleyn's College of God's Gift granted by James I in 1619 he began building his Almshouses for 'six poor brothers and six poor sisters' and his School 'for twelve poor scholars'. All the beneficiaries were to be chosen from four parishes: St Giles' Camberwell and the 3 London parishes with which he was closely connected, St Botolph's Bishopsgate, St Saviour's Southwark and St Giles Cripplegate (q.q.v.), the latter replaced as nominating body by the new parish of St Luke's in 1773.

The funds available for Sir John Soane's commission in 1811 enabled a new wing of the older College buildings to be built, to provide almshouses for six elderly ladies, display space for the collection, and a Mausoleum for Bourgeois, Noël (who had died in 1807) and Margaret Desenfans (d.1814). The new Gallery opened to the public in 1817, although works continued on the building until the early 1820s, the final bill coming to £14,222 15s according to Dulwich College records. A cottage south-east of the Picture Gallery and attached wall was probably also designed by Soane. Adjacent is Christ's Chapel of Alleyn's College of God's Gift, which was consecrated in 1616 by the Archbishop of Canterbury, George Abbot.

Alleyn's charitable foundation underwent reorganisation over the years particularly as a result of the expansion of its educational provision by James Allen, who was Warden and Master of the College from 1712-1746. Rents from his properties in Kensington had enabled 2 small schools to be set up in Dulwich after 1741, and in 1842 a grammar school was established. These schools later led to what are now Dulwich College, James Allen's Girls' School and Alleyn's School (q.q.v.). From 1882 2 separate boards of trustees were established, the Estates Governors who had responsibility for the Estate and Almshouses, and the College Governors who had responsibility for the schools, chapel and for Dulwich Picture Gallery. In the 1880s the almshouses were converted to extend the gallery space and between 1909 and 1939 five new galleries were added. The building suffered damage in World War II but re-opened in 1953. In 1999-2000 Rick Mather Architects were commissioned to refurbish the buildings, including a new extension for visitor facilities, reviving Soane's initial design for the Gallery as part of a quadrangle.

As part of this work, the garden around the Gallery has been re-landscaped and consists of lawn with curving paths, shrubs and trees. The layout prior to that probably dated from Victorian times rather than that of Soane's building; over the years a fine collection of trees has been planted, which include black mulberry, dawn redwood, Wellingtonia, Judas tree and acer. In 1985 a paperbark maple was planted to mark the 21st Anniversary of the Dulwich Society. Among the artefacts in the gardens is a familiar red telephone box, donated by British Telecom; first appearing in 1927, the design, by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, was based on the exterior of Soane's Mausoleum in St Pancras Old Churchyard (q.v.). The Gallery acquired a work by sculptor Peter Randall-Page in September 2010, 'Walking the Dog' as part of its bicentenary celebrations in 2011, its first ever acquisition of a piece of contemporary sculpture.

In 1995 the charitable foundation was again reorganised and under the new arrangements a separate Board of Trustees of Dulwich Picture Gallery was established.

Sources consulted:

Desmond Shawe-Taylor, 'Dulwich Picture Gallery, A Visitor's Guide', 2000; John Beasley 'Southwark Remembered' (Tempus Publishing, 2001); John Wittich, 'London Villages', Shire Publications, 3rd ed. 1987

Further Information (Planning and Conservation)
Grid ref:
Size in hectares:
Site ownership:
Dulwich Picture Gallery
Site management:
Dulwich Picture Gallery
1811-22; 1999/2000
1999/2000: Rick Mather
Listed structures:
LBII*: Dulwich Picture Gallery and Mausoleum. LBII: Cottage to south-east of Gallery and attached wall
On National Heritage List for England (NHLE), Parks & Gardens:

Registered common or village green on Commons Registration Act 1965:

Protected under London Squares Preservation Act 1931:


Local Authority Data

The information below is taken from the relevant Local Authority's planning legislation, which was correct at the time of research but may have been amended in the interim. Please check with the Local Authority for latest planning information.

On Local List:
In Conservation Area:
Conservation Area name:
Dulwich Village
Tree Preservation Order:
Not known
Nature Conservation Area:
Green Belt:
Metropolitan Open Land:
Special Policy Area:
Yes - Archaeological Priority Zone (north of main building)
Other LA designation:

Dulwich Picture Gallery

Dulwich Picture Gallery garden - Photo: Colin Wing
Date taken: 23/07/20 12:13
Click photo to enlarge.


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