November Artwork of the Month: 'The House of Commons, 1986' by June Mendoza

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01 November 2014

Artwork of the month: On 9 November 1880, Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, architect of the modern House of Commons, was born.

The House of Commons Chamber was bombed in May 1941 and completely destroyed.  The House of Commons relocated to the Lords Chamber until 1950, when the new Commons Chamber was officially opened.  Work did not begin on the new Chamber until 1945, when the Commons voted by 121 to 21 to approve the design proposed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott.

Gilbert Scott was born on 9 November 1880, in Hampstead, London.  His father and grandfather had been architects before him – exponents of the High Victorian gothic style, similar to that used by the architect Charles Barry for the Palace of Westminster.  In his own work he sought to blend gothic and modernism, reducing the decoration favoured by the Victorians.

By the time Gilbert Scott was appointed to design the new Commons Chamber, his designs had already been used to create Liverpool Cathedral, Battersea Power Station, Waterloo Bridge and, most famously, the red telephone box.  The new Chamber was designed to fit in with the gothic exterior created by Pugin and Barry, while introducing more modern lighting, heating and ventilation, as well as an enlarged public gallery.

June Mendoza’s painting 'The House of Commons, 1986' depicts Prime Minister’s Questions, with the then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, standing at the despatch box. Also shown in the painting are the other party leaders, Speaker Weatherill, the Cabinet, Shadow Cabinet, Party Whips, Committee Chairs and MPs who entered the House in or before 1970.

Like the old Commons Chamber, Gilbert Scott’s was designed with fewer seats than the number of MPs. This limited seating capacity meant that the remaining places in Mendoza’s painting were offered to Members on the basis of ballots held by their own parties. Over 200 MPs failed to be included.  Many of the excluded MPs decided to commission a second painting ‘The Other Picture’ by Andrew Festing, to include them.  This painting shows Members in the Library rooms which were designed by Barry in the 19th century.

In a nod to the history of the Commons, a group of former statesmen, including Attlee, Gladstone, Macmillan, Churchill, Pitt the younger and Disraeli, can be seen viewing the debate from the gallery on the upper left.

Image: 'The House of Commons, 1986', oil painting by June Mendoza, 1987 (WOA 3232)

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Art in Parliament

Art in Parliament

Explore the Parliamentary Art Collection displayed across the Parliamentary Estate. The collection depicts the history of Parliament and British politics over centuries