Hayward Gallery opened to the public on 11 July 1968 with a retrospective of the work of Henri Matisse. This exhibition, which focused on Matisse’s painting and murals, took over all 17, 500 sq ft of the new gallery.
Exhibited throughout the upper and lower floors were over 146 works which together broadly represented the entirety of Matisse’s career. The works had been loaned to the Hayward Gallery by public and private collections across Europe, America and Russia.
Although the exhibition focused on Matisse's paintings and murals, it also included a number of large-scale paper cut-outs from the artist’s late period, including The Swimming Pool (1952), and early bronze sculptures including The Back (c.1909) and Head of Jeanette (1910–13).
Newspaper advertisement for Hayward Gallery's opening exhibition.
Press release announcing the Arts Council's plans for the Queen to formerly open both the new Hayward Gallery and its first exhibition.
The Hayward Gallery was opened by the Queen on 9 July 1968. Two days later, on 11 July, the gallery opened to the public for the first time.
According to the Arts Council, Hayward Gallery would 'introduce day-time activity into an area primarily used for evening entertainment'.
Private view invitation to the Hayward Gallery's inaugural exhibition.
By the end of its first week, the exhibition had received 6,440 visitors, and by the time that it closed on 8 September 1968, over 100,000 people had attended.
Despite the popularity of the exhibition, opinion was divided over the gallery itself, with one reviewer commenting that ‘for many people the main architectural issue … is: Do they or do they not like concrete?’.