John Martin Gallery’s exhibition of works by Andrew Gifford at Cromwell Place.

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Alone with Trees, which took place on December 16-19 when London was briefly in Tier 3, featured recent large-scale paintings from the artist’s series of Hawthorn trees and of the coppiced woodlands he walked through during the spring and summer of lockdown and other restrictions last year.

Nearly 50 paintings were sold for prices from £6500 to over £50,000.

“I have never had a response to a show like it,” said gallery owner John Martin. “It was a particularly poignant exhibition. The solitude, being in woods and just having space for yourself, is something we increasingly didn’t have until lockdown.”

For Martin, the venue as well as the art was key to its success.

“My experience at Cromwell Place was amazing. For a small first-floor gallery like ours to be able to show in a 200sq m exhibition hall was pretty exceptional. The installation team had the whole exhibition hung in a morning, which gave us precious hours for visitors to come along.”

Costs mismatch

Martin developed the idea for Cromwell Place several years ago to address what he saw as a mismatch between the high rent costs of running a gallery in a desirable location and the fact that the majority of income is generated off site.

The members-only, high-spec complex opened in October 2020 comprising five Grade II-listed townhouses in South Kensington offering 14 gallery spaces, private viewing rooms and a base for socialising and networking throughout the year.

Martin, who has no official involvement in running Cromwell Place, says the hub can help galleries navigate the art market during the pandemic and beyond.

“I think it really demonstrated how incredibly useful it is for a gallery to have facilities that are totally flexible. It’s been the lesson for every gallery over the last six months – you can plan shows but cannot rely on dates so just have to be really nimble,” he said.