Laing Art Gallery

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The Laing Art Gallery is known for bringing world class art to the North East. For many years it had been on my list of places to visit. Last week, I got the opportunity, how I wish I hadn't waited until my fifties to visit this gallery where I spent a very enjoyable afternoon viewing some magnificent art, housed in an interesting historic building, followed by a delicious meal in their restaurant where I enjoyed good food in a welcoming atmosphere, enhanced by the coloured light which streamed into the room through the stained glass windows whilst being able to sit and view fascinating paintings hanging on the restaurant wall and nearby sculptures.

The Laing Art Gallery is situated in the centre of the city Newcastle Upon Tyne. t It has an interesting history. In the early 20th century Newcastle Upon Tyne had no civic art gallery, in fact it was seriously deficient in venues for visual arts when compared to other cities. Alexander Laing a very successful wine and spirit merchant came to the rescue!. He donated a gift of £20,000 to Newcastle as a thank you for the commercial prosperity the city had provided for him. From the donation the Laing Art Gallery was built. Building commenced in 1901 on a site next to the Newcastle Free Library (which still stands) In 1904 the Laing Art Gallery opened it doors.

The Laing Art Gallery stands on the corner of Newbridge Street/John Dobson Street, a busy city centre location. It is within walking distance from The Haymarket Bus Station or Newcastle Central Station, although there are taxi ranks outside the bus and train station which can provide taxi's to the Art Gallery, with drop off points outside the door of the Gallery. a taxi ride would take just a few minutes. There is also bus services to the Art Gallery with bus stops being just steps away. Chargeable Car Parking is available behind the Gallery and at the nearby (almost next door) NCP Car Park beneath the Premier Inn. There are two blue badge car parking places behind the Laing Art Gallery

Before entering the Laing Art Gallery it is worth taking a look at the beautiful architecture of the building. The tower with its open octagonal lantern is adorned with sculptures, paintings and engravings.

As I have some mobility problems I am particularly interested in the facilities at venues for disabled people/ or those with reduced mobility. When I visited the gallery I saw a group of disabled people being shown around. I was impressed with the level of facilities available at this venue and the helpful staff. Details of which are included in body of this review and listed at the end.

When entering the Laing Art Gallery you do so through wide automatic doors on New Bridge Street. This takes you to a bright, well stocked gift shop. There are a few steps up to the next level (although this next level is still classed at the ground floor). A lift wide enough for a wheelchair is provided almost as soon as you enter the building. This lift takes you to all levels of the Gallery. The lift is wide enough for a standard size wheelchair, there is an alternative lift at the back of the Gallery for wider wheelchairs and staff are pleased to assist. All lifts in the gallery have level access, tactile buttons and voice announcer.

The Laing Art Gallery contains an exceptional permanent art collection of British Oil Paintings, watercolours, ceramics, silver and glassware of national and local interest, including watercolours by Thomas Girtin, JMW Tuner, Edward Lear, J F Lewis and Elizabeth Blackadder. Pictures by William Holman Hunt, Edward Burne-Jones, Paul Gaugin, Victor Pasmore and a group of paintings by John Martin who was born and raised in the North East.. 19c paintings by Lawrence Alma-Tadema, and local artists TM Richardson, C N Henry and 20th century Artists Laura Knight, Ben Nicholson and Gillian Ayres to name a few.

There are many Sculptures from a variety of artists including Albert Toft and Henry Moor. There is a beautiful collection of Beilby enamelled Glass, Siverware from Newcastle spanning 400 years, a Glass Collection featuring Sowerby Studio and Davidson and Sowerby Pressed Glass, Mailing Ceramics from the 19th and 20th century form part of a collection from North East Potteries. There is a fascinating display of Japanesse art and prints. I am listing only a sample of artists there are many more to see!

If there is artwork from specific artists you wish to see, it is worth contacting the Art Gallery prior to your visit as not all of the above is displayed at all times.

In addition to the above there is a permanent display of northern artwork called Northern Spirit. This exhibition is large and includes a 19th and 20th century exhibition from mining communities which illustrate mining life in the North East. There is a collection showing City and River Life, A Cullercoats collection showing fishing life in the North East, one of my favourite pictures from this collection was a picture showing two fishwives, one with a creel of fish, the other with their basket full of seaweed which they would use to burn on their fire to provide heat in their fishing cottage.

There is also a touch screen facility enabling you see north east life and to hear the sounds of north east life.

The Laing Art Gallery also has a specific exhibition displayed, These temporary exhibitions change throughout the year. Telephoning the Art Gallery, visiting their website or looking for posters outside the gallery will tell you which temporary exhibition is being displayed. When I visited there was a Turner and Constable sketching exhibition of over 60 pieces of art. . As Constable is my favourite artist this was a bonus!

Entry to this amazing museum is free (donations are of course welcome). However there is a charge to see the temporary exhibitions. When I visited the charges to see the Turner and Constable sketching exhibition were:-

Full ticket £7 Senior Citizen £6.50 Concession £5.50 Children under 12 free Carers for disabled people free

Once you have entered the Gallery, browsed the shop, the small flight of steps or life takes you to the Exhibition. At the start of the Exhibition look directly ahead and the exhibition continues. Turn right and a majestic sweeping stone staircase (which is not too steep – I managed it with my walking stick) takes you to the next floor of exhibitions. Alternatively the lift will take you to the next floor. Turn left, and you pass a wall adorned with beautiful paintings and pass interesting sculptures. Eventually you will reach the Café.

There is seating throughout the Gallery and light portable stools (stools are obtainable from the Reception area in the shop) I found this useful, the beautiful art work takes time to be fully appreciated and the use of the seating makes the process more relaxing and comfortable.

After enjoying the exhibitions I visited the Laing Art Gallery Café. The Café is spacious with comfortable seats. The menu consists of snacks such as sandwiches priced around £2 – £3, or gourmet sandwiches around £5, There are meals which I thought to be good value for example my meal of Salmon and Watercress fishcakes with a delicious fresh salad and new potatoes cost just £5.25. A meal of sausages, potatoes and vegetables was around £5.45. To drink, Tea, coffee, spring water and juices are available.. During my visit the restaurant staff were prompt and efficient and friendly too!. The environment is spacious, , the wall hangings, and sculptures provide an interesting stimulation whereas the , the sunlight streaming through the stained glass windows provides a relaxed addition to this area.

Facilities in the art gallery and in the café for those with disability/reduced mobility include:-

Wheelchair hire (free of charge) it is wise to book in advance. Lifts able to accommodate wheelchairs. Tactile lift buttons, voice announcers. Assistance dogs welcome (and a bowl of water is available from the information desk on the ground floor). Reduced admission and Carers get free admission. Seating with and without arms Portable seating. A number of tactile artworks. Talking audio guides and listening posts. Large Print and Braille Gallery Plans (available from information desk) Films and interactive displays. Automatic entry. Disabled Parking Induction loops Disabled toilet facilities. Ground Floor café with available on request: Large Print Menus, Large handled cutlery, open handed mugs, Guided tours – There are guided tours routinely on a Saturday and guided tours are available on other days on request. 

The opening times for this attraction are: Tuesday – Saturday 10-5 Sunday 2-5. The Gallery is closed on a Monday (except bank holidays)

Near to the Gallery is a host of restaurants, cafes, shops and all the attractions of a major city, Within walking distance to the Gallery are hotels such as The Premier Inn, The Thistle Hotel, The Station Hotel.

I will certainly return to the Laing Art Gallery and I would recommend it to others.

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