Probably the most famous of all British art galleries, The Whitechapel Art Gallery was founded by Canon Samuel and Henrietta Barnett, in 1881. Samuel Barnett was also the rector of St. Jude's, Commercial Road, Whitechapel. They first exhibited borrowed works of art in the schoolroom of St. Jude's during the Easter break, from 1880.
The Gallery, designed by Charles Harrison Townsend, was opened on March 12th 1901. 206,000 people visited the first exhibition in six weeks. Charles AITKEN first served as the director of the gallery.
The gallery has never had a permanent collection, mounting an ever-changing programme of exhibitions; early exhibitions included works from China, Japan and India, Jewish art, modern British art and the Pre Raphaelites, alongside exhibitions of work by students and local schoolchildren. The Whitechapel Open/ East End Academy grew out of these shows of work by local artists.
The space was and still is occasionally hired out:
In 1939, Picasso's Guernica was shown in an exhibition 'Aid Spain' organised by the Stepney Trades Council.
In 1956, the exhibition This Is Tomorrow took place, an important collaboration between painters, sculptors and architects. The 1950s and 60s also saw shows of artists such as Mondrian, Turner, Stubbs, Moore and Hepworth as well as the first solo exhibitions in the UK of American artists including Pollock, Rothko and Rauschenberg.
More recent shows have included Hockney (1970), Kahlo (1982), Freud (1993) and group shows such as Inside the Visible (1996) and Live In Your Head (2000).
The gallery is an independent charitable trust and receives support from the ARTS COUNCIL and various other bodies.