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The Julia and Hans Rausing Room is open

We've really missed what is our largest room and one of the Gallery's major thoroughfares. It's been out of bounds to most of us and so we're excited about the big reveal.

Who designed it and when? And how is it linked to Brighton's Royal Pavilion; we go inside to tell this huge room's story.

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Room 32, more than just a number

Since January 2019 our largest room, Room 32, has been empty of visitors and paintings but alive with cranes, scaffolding, hard-hatted painters and restorers skilled in all sorts of crafts who have the mission of transforming the room.

When its doors closed in January 2019, the room was in need of attention. The colourful decoration had been whitewashed during the 1920s and the room’s original fixtures and fittings had long been replaced.

The last refurbishment was almost thirty years ago, in 1991, when the room was fitted with light-green damask wall coverings, new lighting tracks and hanging rails for the paintings; a far cry from its original splendour.

The backstory

The room was designed by the architect Edward M Barry (1830–1880) as part of an 1868 plan to extend the Gallery. The room’s decoration was in the hands of the fashionable family firm J G Crace and Son which counted the Royal Pavilion, Brighton among its past projects.

When it opened in 1876 visitors were treated to colourfully painted friezes and lunettes, decorated with celebrated artists’ names and alternating designs of dolphins and winged lions.

We can get an idea of what Room 32 looked like from this painting by Giuseppe Gabrielli from 1886 (on loan to the National Gallery from the Government Art Collection).


The upper part of the room was painted in reds and greens and the architectural details picked out in gold leaf would have glistened in the daylight (remember that electric light didn’t come to the Gallery until the 1930s).

The refurbishment

In January 2019, we began a major renovation programme made possible through the generous support of Julia and Hans Rausing, after whom the room has been named.

The project had two goals: to reinstate Barry’s original decorative design and to modernise the out-of-date ventilation and lighting systems.

In the run up to the project, during 2017 and 2018, a specialist conservator took nearly two hundred paint samples from high up near the room's ceiling. These revealed the bright colours of Barry’s original decorative scheme (as in Gabrielli’s painting) underneath the white overpaint. 


The rehang of the Italian 17th-century paintings

The huge room certainly does its paintings justice. It’s home to some of our largest and most striking pictures including works by Caravaggio, Guercino and Guido Reni. With their drama, colour and emotion the style of these works was to affect the future of painting across Europe.

We’ve had a chance to make some changes to how the paintings are hung in the room. We've hung our recent acquisitions by Artemisia and Orazio Gentileschi in their new definitive home, alongside other masterpieces from this part of the collection.

Among the exciting new things to see are the recently conserved Lot and his Daughters leaving Sodom by Guido Reni and Giovanni Battista Gaulli’s Portrait of Cardinal Marco Gallo, which has been reframed in an Italian 17th-century frame.

Another highlight Is a selection of paintings from the collection of the art historian Sir Denis Mahon (1910–2011), 25 of which were presented to the Gallery in 2013 through Art Fund. 

Artists represented in the Mahon bequest include Domenichino, Luca Giordano, Ludovico Carracci and Guercino.

And so another page in the history of Room 32 – now the Julia and Hans Rausing Room – has been turned; a journey returning full circle to how the room's creators envisioned it over a century ago.

Ultimately we hope that, with its combination of dazzling decoration and stunning paintings, this room will be, as it always has been, one of our visitors’ favourites.

To visit this room book a ticket online and in advance and follow art route B when you arrive at the Gallery. 

Read about the paintings in-depth and zoom-in online.

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