Royal Society of British Artists inspired by Alexandra Palace's gloriously restored theatre
PUBLISHED: 11:47 01 July 2019 | UPDATED: 11:47 01 July 2019
Artworks showing the history, restoration and extravagant past productions at the Muswell Hill landmark go on show at Mall Galleries
Alexandra Palaces's mothballed Victorian theatre was gloriously restored and reopened last December.
Following a tour of the venue with the Friends of the Theatre during the restoration, a group of artists were inspired by its history and extravagant past productions to create artworks.
Richard Smith from the Friends of Alexandra Palace Theatre said "We invited Royal Society of British Artists members on a special tour. They were given time to take it in, take pictures - and some were able to return. It's an inspiring space - especially while it was being brought back to life - which is why so many of them took it to heart and produced such an amazing diversity of artworks."
A selection are on display at Mall Galleries in Mayfair until July 14, as part of a 500-piece RBA exhibition.
On July 8, artists will talk about their work alongside Alexandra Palace's CEO, Louise Stewart.
Mr Smith adds: "Most of us know Alexandra Palace as the location for the first BBC broadcasts in November 1936. When the Palace first opened in 1873, it was called 'The People's Palace' and attracted over 120,000 visitors to its concert hall, art galleries, museum, lecture hall, library and large theatre.
"It lasted sixteen days before being destroyed by fire. Re-built and re-opened in 1875, it suffered a second fire in 1980. The blaze has been recreated by Annie Boisseau, the newest member of the Society, whose contemporary romantic landscape painting fits the dramatic scene perfectly.
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"Within the 1875 Palace and untouched by the second fire was a theatre with seating for 3,000. Its stage incorporated cutting edge technology to allow the performers to disappear, reappear and be propelled into the air, much used in the very first show, a pantomime, 'The Yellow Dwarf'."
It was descriptions of the show that inspired artist Mick Davies. "For me, this project is all about the acts rather than the surroundings, about the shows that amazed the audiences by the special effects that were new in those days - exploding cannons, people vaulting out of trap doors. It seemed bizarre. I just wanted that kind of excitement," he said.
The theatre closed some 80 years ago. It was neglected and used as a scenery store by the BBC until the 1950s, before being left to fall into disrepair.
The decaying space, with many of its features intact, inspired RBA artists like Austin Cole who visited during the restoration: "My first impression as I walked into the theatre was, what an amazing space. It really was quite overwhelming - the building work, the renovation, the noise, the movement. What I focussed on was the drama of the light coming in from the back of the stage."
Anthony Yates' Knife Thrower's Assistant recalls the daredevil circus performers who amazed the Ally Pally crowds over the decades.
The sense of history and connection with the past is tangible.
The exhibition runs 4 to 14 July at Mall Galleries www.mallgalleries.org.uk
The Rebirth of Alexandra Palace Theatre talk and screening takes place on Monday 8 July 2pm
Printmaker Austin Cole RBA will talk about Printing Alexandra Palace on Tuesday 9 July, 11am to 1pm.