Charing Cross Road, Art Bookshops, and some sculpture

Tube: Leicester Square half way down to road, or Charing Cross or Tottenham Court Road at the ends. They are all on the Northern Line, and the Central Line, Jubilee, Picadilly and Bakerloo Lines also stop at one or other of these stations. Any of the three stations will do; the whole road is about 10-15 minutes stroll long.

Charing Cross Road is still one of the best places in London to buy art books, both current and second hand. In the last 10 years or so, the second hand and remainder bookshops have become fewer, but the new bookshops have increased. Charing Cross Road stretches from Charing Cross Railway and Underground Stations at Trafalgar Square for a 10-15 minute stroll via Leicester Square and Cambridge Circus (where it meets Shaftsbury Avenue) through to Centre Point, a tall modern block by Tottenham Court Road Station, where Charing Cross Road ends, Tottenham Court Road begins, and Oxford Street and New Oxford Street are to left and right. In that space are many bookshops and a lot of books on art. There are also things of sculptural interest.

The new bookshops

The new bookshops on Charing Cross Road lie between Leicester Square and Tottenham Court Road Stations. Foyles is one of the biggest bookshops in the world, with a stock of 7 million titles, arranged somewhat haphazardly, and the art section, like the others, is very good. Definitely the first place to visit. The new Blackwells, the first in London, on the other side of the road, is perfectly organised, and has an intelligently selected, rather serious selection of art books. It is far larger than the small entrance suggests, in typical Blackwells fashion.

Apart from these two, there is Books Etc, opposite Foyles, once a not very impressive cheap and cheerful bookshop, later grown into a huge-basemented bookshop that has spawned many other branches, and now engulfed by an American chain called Borders. It has a decent art section concentrating on popular books and artist monographs, and has a cafeteria also. Waterstones, next to Foyles, has an interesting individual selection of art books. Not in Charing Cross Road, but within 5 minutes walk (in Gower Street, parallel to Tottenham Court Road), is another very large bookshop, formerly Dillons. It has art books and a remainder section. Just off Shaftsbury Avenue is the Dillons Art Bookshop, latterly Waterstones, which is better on modern art and art techniques than on art history.

Smaller shops are Zwemmer, which has several specialist shops in and around Charing Cross Road, including an art bookshop and one specialising in Oxford University Press books. On the same side, near the Tottenham Court Road end, one of the little side streets is Denmark Street, where Zeno, the Greek bookshop, has a good selection of art books to do with classical Greece, Byzantium and modern Greek art. Off Cambridge Circus is Earlham Street, and a three minute walk along there is the small, cramped but absolutely essential Dover Bookshop. Dover is an American publisher which reprints out of print books, old woodcuts, prints, drawings etc. It has many 19th C graphic works - for example the works of Dore, Burne-Jones's woodcuts for the Kelmscott Chaucer, Aubrey Beardsley's graphic art and so on. An excellent place, unless you are American and can get these things cheaper back home. At the Trafalgar Square end of the road, both the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery have bookshops.

There used to be many discount bookshops in Charing Cross Road; now there are only a couple, very close to the Centre Point end (Tottenham Court Road end). They have a lot of recent and not so recent art volumes, especially the coffee table sort, some very cheap, others not. Here too are most of the Taschen range, at normal prices. There are of course various other speciality bookshops down Charing Cross Road, not to do with art, but I should perhaps mention Murder One, near Leicester Square station on the opposite side to the second hand bookshops, which is a fantasy/science fiction/thriller bookshop which includes books of fantasy art.

Second hand bookshops

Charing Cross Road is also well known for its second hand bookshops, and although these have declined somewhat in number, they are still worth a visit. They are found in a row near Leicester Square station. They vary in price and stock, but bargains may be found in the stuffy basements of these shops.

Off the lower part of Charing Cross Road, between Leicester Square station and Charing Cross station, is Cecil Court, where may be found a range of more specialist antiquarian bookshops with higher prices.

Also in Charing Cross Road

Emerging from the National Gallery and walking along Charing Cross Road, the National Portrait Gallery (see separate page for note on Victorian paintings there) has a series of medallion portraits on the exterior. There are 18 famous men - a mixture of historians and atists who all produced portraits of Englishmen, whether in ink, stone or paint. They were sculpted in Portland Stone by Frederick Thomas, who mostly used as models what he could find in the National Portrait collection itself (then stored at Bethnal Green). Noteworthy among those shown are Reynolds, Chantrey and Carlyle.

Beyond the National Portrait Gallery a small patch of grass - here in summer there are normally a few art students who sketch portraits for about ten pounds; I have the idea that they are perhaps a little more shy and less flamboyant, but perhaps more skilled, than those found in Leicester Square. There is also a statue of the actor Henry Irving (1910), looking very noble, by Thomas Brock. A bit further is a small art shop (Cass's), very well-used by art students in London. Close by, in the centre of the road (strictly speaking St Martins Place at this end), is an island with a rather modern Monument to Nurse Cavell (1920) in marble and granite, by George Frampton.

Carrying on up the road, arriving at Leicester Square Station, on the left (i.e. Leicester Square side) is the London Hippodrome, a complicated structure of the turn of the century by the architect Frank Matcham, who built many music halls around the country. Walking further, at Cambridge Circus we can mention the Palace Theatre, with elaborate terra cotta ornamentation by T. E. Collcutt. This is worth pausing to look at from the other side of the street, because the canopy hides the first floor composition. The busy composition above the entrance has a reclining semi-draped figure with harp on one side, and a flautist on the other, with faun dancing etc. More terra cotta is round windows and in bands, but too much detail to be clear at that height. High up, cherubs hold pots, and the summit figure has a torch raised aloft. Note also lion and unicorn by the round window at the top.

Finally, at Centre Point is the end of Charing Cross Road and the beginning of Tottenham Court Road.

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