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What Is the Orleans House Gallery?

Mark Wollacott
Mark Wollacott

The Orleans House Gallery is an art gallery situated in Richmond-Upon-Thames to the west of Greater London. The site sits on the bank of the Thames River and adjoins Marble Hill Park to the east. It is primarily used for a range of temporary and local art exhibitions, but is also used for education purposes and as a wedding venue.

Historical evidence for settlement on the site goes back to the Tudor period of English history. There are accounts for two homes on the site in the 1500s and 1600s, however, by the end of the 17th century, the area was free of housing. Twickenham, the part of Richmond where the Orleans House Gallery is situated, was then a free village just outside of London. The village was, however, situated on a scenic bend of the Thames River and close enough to Hampton Court and the city for it to become a fashionable area to live.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

James Johnston built the modern Orleans House Gallery on Crown Land in 1710. The original building was designed to be plain and ordinary; in other words, Protestant and conservative. With the intended visit of King George I, Johnston commissioned James Gibbs to build the Octagon Room in 1721. The room was built in a baroque style and was dedicated to George II’s wife, Caroline.

The house in Richmond became Orleans House after the French Revolution. Louise Philippe, the rightful King of France, arrived in Britain after 1800. He came to live at the house and even though he stayed for only two years, gave it his name. This is because Louis Philippe's title was that of Duc D’Oleans in French.

After Louis Philippe became King of France and after his abdication, his fifth son, Henri, bought Orleans House in 1852. This marked the first time the house would become the Orleans House Gallery. Henri brought with him a large number of books, pieces of artwork and ornate furniture from his old chateau in France. During his time at Orleans House, Henri added to his art collection.

The art was not to remain, however. In 1882, the Cunard family bought the house, but only held it until the early 1900s. Parts of the grounds were sold off in 1919 to form Marble Hill Park and Orleans School. In 1926, a ballast and gravel merchant bought the house, stripped it of its artwork and began demolishing it. The Orleans House was saved and in 1962 was donated to Twickenham Borough Council, who decided to use it as an art gallery.

Orleans House Gallery features two primary exhibitions. First, there is a temporary exhibition in the main building. There are about five exhibitions each year. Second, there are seven local and community exhibitions in the stable gallery adjoining the main building.

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Make sure you get along to the current Madge Gill exhibition - a stunning retrospective of work by this fascinating UK outsider and visionary artist!

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