Short, slick and packed with art galleries, Cork Street is to the commercial art world what Bond Street is to jewellery. And sitting just behind the Royal Academy, it’s also only a 10-minute stroll from the regency wonders of The Chesterfield Mayfair. In our guide to Cork Street galleries, we take a look at the history of the area and the character of some of its rather elegant art spaces.
Once more famous for its tailors than its artists, Mayor Gallery was the first gallery to open on Cork Street in 1925, and quickly established its reputation selling avant-garde works by artists like Paul Klee. However, others were quick to follow, with The Redfern Gallery setting up shop in the grand townhouse of John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich. With these openings, other galleries followed suit and it wasn’t long before Cork Street began to build a reputation as the place to purchase great works of art. Artists, too, started to feel that the success of their career hinged on acquiring a Cork Street dealer.
Today, after almost a century of artistic history and a record that includes fostering the talents of titans such as Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud, Cork Street’s 22 commercial galleries are still going from strength to strength. One of the most noteworthy is Anglo-French duo Waddington Custot, which is famous for having mined a rich vein of talent from Cornwall’s St Ives, such as Patrick Heron, Terry Frost and Roger Hilton. And no shortlist can overlook Browse & Derby, the best dealers in traditional British and French paintings, drawing and sculpture.
One of the biggest names on Cork Street is Messum’s. Long recognised as the market leader in British Impressionism, the arc of its works stretch from the 19th century to the present day, and its owner tirelessly promotes British art all over the world. Meanwhile, Dadiani Fine Art – which stands on the spot vacated by Peggy Guggenheim’s famous Jeune Gallery – dedicates itself in large part to the promotion of emerging artists. Further down the street you’ll find Petleys; the only gallery owned by an artist on Cork Street, it hosts a variety of works, from Roy Petley’s own plein air oil paintings to solo exhibitions of outstanding young artists.
Though these are the highlights of Cork Street, no matter where you wander you’re sure to find a masterpiece behind every door, and sometimes in the window. In the last few years Cork Street exhibitions have even included conceptual and performance artworks from figures like Anna Fafaliou, who’s slept on a gallery floor (with visitors copying her).
If you’d like to surround yourself with beautiful artworks, why not explore these wonderful Cork Street galleries, before returning to The Chesterfield Mayfair to discuss your findings in the private club settings of The Library?