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Royal Society of British Artists Annual Exhibition 2019 - Mall Galleries

An exciting collection of art, inspired by the restoration of the Victorian theatre at Alexandra Palace, will be displayed at Mall Galleries, London from 4 to 14 July.

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The theatre’s almost mystical original interior being brought back to life has inspired members of the RBA to create works of art based on the Palace and the theatre's restoration and its history, some of which feature in this year’s Royal Society of British Artists Annual Exhibition.

There will be a special temporary display of more of the works from this project from 2pm on Monday 8 July, along with a short films about the restoration and of the artists at work, to coincide with member artists talking about how the project developed, including Mick Davies, Austin Cole, and Meg Dutton alongside Alexandra Palace's CEO, Louise Stewart.

Most of us know Alexandra Palace as a landmark on the hills north of London and 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 completely 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 interpretation of Romantic Landscape painting fits the dramatic scene perfectly.

Within the 1875 Palace and untouched by the second fire was a theatre with seating for audiences of three thousand. 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 this extravaganza that provided the inspiration for RBA 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 very bizarre. I just wanted that kind of excitement.”

But the theatre closed some eighty 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, cavernous space, with many of its earliest features intact, inspired RBA artists like Austin Cole who visited it during the recent 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.”

The art inspired both by the extravagant productions, melodrama and acrobatic acts of the theatre’s early years, and by the sense of history and connection with the past can be seen in the works on display.