Somerset House

Somerset House is London’s working arts centre and home to the UK’s largest creative community. Built on historic foundations, we are situated in the very heart of the capital.Dedicated to backing newness, championing openness, nurturing creativity and empowering ideas, our cultural programme is ambitious in scope. We insist on relevance, but aren’t afraid of irreverence, and are as keen on entertainment as enrichment. We embrace the biggest issues of our times but are equally committed to the delicate task of oxygenating new work by emerging artists.Where else can you spend an hour ice-skating while listening to a specially commissioned sound piece by a cutting edge artist?It is this creative tension—the way we harness our heritage, put the too-oftenoverlooked on our central stage and use our neo-classical backdrop to showcase groundbreaking contemporary culture—that inspires our programme. Old and new,history and disruption, art and entertainment, high-tech and homemade, combined with the fact that we are home to a constantly shape-shifting working creative community: this is our point of difference. It is what we are proud of. And it is what makes the experience of visiting or working in Somerset House inspiring and energizing, urgent and exciting.

London: The Thames from Somerset House Terrace towards the City (1750 - 1751) by CanalettoRoyal Collection Trust, UK

Somerset House has a rich history stretching back over 500 years. Today we see one of the finest 18th century buildings in London transformed in the late 20th century into an international centre for contemporary arts and culture.

Top Euro (Bri) London Houses Somerset (1900)LIFE Photo Collection

Over the centuries the various buildings which have existed on this site have served in turn as royal palace, ambassadorial residence, military barracks, public pleasure-garden and administrative quarters of the Royal Navy; a museum and home to learned societies and art institutions; and as Civil Service and Inland Revenue offices only vacated as recently as 2013.

Exhibition Room, Somerset House (January 1, 1808) by Auguste Charles Pugin|John Hill|Thomas RowlandsonThe Metropolitan Museum of Art

In recent times Somerset House has enjoyed a renaissance that has turned it into a much-loved London landmark. Its intriguing history and colourful past are the backdrop to a large and vibrant creative community and a popular public cultural programme.

The first Somerset House to occupy the site was completed in stages between 1547 and 1619, and was replaced by the second and present building which was started in 1776 during the reign of King George III. Remains of the original buildings are now buried beneath The Edmond J. Safra Fountain Court, and some are still visible under the basement of the East Wing.

LIFE Photo Collection

William Chambers was the architect of the present building but he never saw it completed. The final addition was not made to the building until 1857, in the reign of Queen Victoria.

Summer Series at Somerset House by Somerset HouseSomerset House

In 2000, this landmark building began its reinvention as a cultural powerhouse for today, advancing a new generation of creative thinkers.

Today, we offer a diverse and dynamic programme of contemporary arts and culture. Our exhibitions profile the work of today’s boldest creative minds, with The Edmond J. Safra Fountain Court hosting a thrilling series of outdoor film, music and skating events. Our learning programme fosters skills and knowledge in the arts and cultural industries while Somerset House Studios promotes work that pushes bold ideas, engages with urgent issues and pioneers new technologies. We are also home to The Courtauld Gallery and Institute, and King’s College, London.

Somerset House | Culture Imagined Here by Somerset HouseSomerset House

In 2017/18 our public programme was made up of more
‘home-grown’ work than ever before.

Alongside our annual events in the Edmond J Safra Fountain Court and major exhibitions Perfume: A Sensory Journey Through Contemporary Scent and North: Fashioning Identity, for the first time, our public programme featured the work of Somerset House Studios artists.

Commissions included Eloise Hawser’s exhibition By the deep, by the mark, Larry Achiampong’s Pan African Flag for the Relic Traveller’s Alliance, Chloe Lamford’s Great Arch Hall installation ShowRoom and Anna Meredith’s Zarabande for Zamboni during Skate.

Summer Series at Somerset House by Somerset HouseSomerset House

Summer Series with American Express. "One of London's finest open-air venues." - I newspaper. Metronomy on stage, 2018

Summer Series at Somerset House by Somerset HouseSomerset House

An established part of London’s festival scene, Summer Series with American Express returns annually with eleven-nights of established and emerging artists. The world-class talent showcased each year reflects Somerset House’s commitment to curating a mix of both international and homegrown artists. The Roots, 2018

Film4 Summer Screen at Somerset House by Film4Somerset House

Film4 Summer Screen at Somerset House takes place for two weeks annually in August, with a carefully-curated and distinctive selection of classic films, contemporary hits, cult favourites and red-carpet premieres, presented under the night sky.

Skate at Somerset House by SKATESomerset House

Skate at Somerset House: "A glorious backdrop and special events help make this trip to this outdoor rink one of the capital's most festive outings." Time Out

John Gerrard - Western Flag by John GerrardSomerset House

A large-scale art installation by artist John Gerrard in Somerset House’s The Edmond J. Safra Fountain Court on the occasion of World Earth Day.

Mat Collishaw Thresholds by Mat CollishawSomerset House

Thresholds by Mat Collishaw, presented at Somerset House in 2017, used the latest in VR technology, to restage one of the earliest exhibitions of photography in 1839, when British scientist William Henry Fox Talbot first presented his photographic prints to the public at King Edward's School, Birmingham.

North by NORTHSomerset House

In 2017 the exhibition, North: Fashioning Identity, explored the truth, myth and the spaces in-between in visual representations of the North of England.

Perfume by PerfumeSomerset House

A multi-sensory exhibition Perfume: A Contemporary Journey Through Contemporary Scent presented at Somerset House in the summer of 2017 featured ten extraordinary perfumes and their pioneering creators, who have radically changed our perceptions of fragrance over the last 20 years.

Inviting visitors to experience a vibrant new perfume scene, the contemporary cult perfumes shaking up scent culture and the unseen works of art worn on our skin. Contemporary perfume provocateurs are dispensing with traditional high gloss communication concepts, gender boundaries and conventional notions of good taste.

An installation for Dark Ride by Killian Wells.

Dismantle Yourself, curated by Graham Dunning by Graham DunningSomerset House

Since its launch in October 2016, Somerset House Studios has established itself as a game-changing incubator of creative talent, the number of artists working on site growing from 65 to 85 over the past year.

New residents in 2017/18 included experimental rapper and performance artist Gaika, artist and writer Laura Grace Ford, DJ and producer Nabihah Iqbal, and collaborative artists and filmmakers Iain Forsyth and Jayne Pollard.

A crowd assembled for the launch of UTOPIA 2016 by Jeremy Deller and Fraser MuggeridgeSomerset House

Somerset House is home to the largest and most diverse collection of creative organisations, freelancers, artists, makers and thinkers in London.

Somerset House, The Edmond J. Safra Fountain Court (1905-07-08/1905-07-08) by Somerset HouseSomerset House

The Edmond J. Safra Fountain Court is centred around our iconic fountains and surrounded on all sides by 19th century buildings.

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