18th century Somerset House was built by the Thames river on the site of a demolished Tudor palace. Its purpose was to house the Royal Academy of Arts, the Royal Society, the Society of Antiquaries, and a number of government offices that included the navy board. It is now home to the Courtauld Institute of Art, Gilbert Collection, and Hermitage Rooms.
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The building was designed as a series of townhouses around a quadrangle with a grand entrance. At first the river came up to the building entrance, but when the embankment was built, the entrance was dramatically changed. In the courtyard is a sculpture of George III and a fountain court where water jets spring from the granite flagstones.
The Gilbert collection is of special interest as it includes over 800 works of European gold, silver, mosaics, and decorative arts. Of much interest is the large collection of snuff boxes, some belonging to royalty. Many are gold and encrusted with diamonds and emeralds. At the Courtauld institute are impressionist paintings, prints, and drawings. The Hermitage rooms house collections from the museum in St Petersburg on a rotating basis.
Special exhibitions and events take place throughout the year.
Location: on the Strand; also on Victoria Embankment; nearest underground is Temple (closed Sundays so use Embankment)
Open 10am-6pm, daily
Tel. 020 7845 4600
Insider tip: The Gilbert collection demands a minimum of one hour of your time. It is one of the best to be seen in London.