Ever since opening its doors on 29 March 1871, the Royal Albert Hall has been one of the premier entertainment venues in the United Kingdom. Playing host to world leaders, sporting greats and, of course, icons of the performance stage, the legendary venue has gone from strength to strength and remained the epicentre of arts and sciences for generations.
Over the years, the Royal Albert Hall has provided a platform for a wide variety of significant events. As a result, the list of people to have graced centre stage is a veritable who’s who of recent history that includes Sir Winston Churchill, Jimi Hendrix and Muhammad Ali. A historic venue in every aspect of the word, ‘The Nation’s Village Hall’ is renowned the world over and synonymous with experiences that last a lifetime.
Understandably, encapsulating such an iconic setting on the face of a single coin is no easy feat. Fortunately, renowned artist Anne Desmet RA was the perfect person for this particular task. Specialising in architectural artwork, she is an accomplished member of the Royal Academy of Arts. Additionally, Anne also has a personal connection with the venue, all of which allowed her to provide a wonderfully true and authentic design for the inaugural Royal Albert Hall coin.
The Royal Mint produces numerous commemorative coins each year. What attracted you to this project in particular?
“Much of my work as an artist over the last 30 years has involved depictions of iconic and just plain, interesting buildings in worldwide locations but most especially in Italy and England. I am especially interested in buildings in the round – such as Rome’s Pantheon and Colosseum – and the Royal Albert Hall is arguably Britain’s most distinguished such building and one that I have admired ever since I first moved to the capital 30-odd years ago.”
Have you ever attended the Royal Albert Hall in person prior to this project?
“I have enjoyed various Proms concerts there, over the years, and also was thrilled to attend a Schools Prom there. Both my son and daughter were on stage, performing in a secondary school brass ensemble. For both of them it was the absolute highlight of their music-making to date and a very proud moment for their mum and dad!”
It sounds like you have a very personal connection to the venue. Have you had any other experiences with the Royal Albert Hall?
“As a child growing up in Liverpool in the 1970s, I had long desired to see the Royal Albert Hall because my late uncle, Frank Irving, was for decades a Senior Lecturer at Imperial College and Warden of the College’s Beit Hall. His room at Beit Hall had a phenomenal view of the adjacent Royal Albert Hall and he had enthused to me about the beauties of the Hall both outside and in. So it was one of the first buildings I visited when I moved to London as an art student in 1987 and I was later thrilled to attend his election as an Associate of Imperial College at a Postgraduate Awards Ceremony, held at the Royal Albert Hall, in 1999 – a very proud day for my family and intimately connected, in my mind, with the Royal Albert Hall itself.”
How did you approach the initial design concept?
“I began by trawling the internet and my own back catalogue of photographs for views of the building from every possible angle and then started making pencil sketches of viewing angles that would best fit the shape of the coin.”
Was there anything you knew you wanted to include prior to delving into the creative process?
“I felt from the outset that the best design solution would convey the entire building fully in the round, within the round coin shape, rather than taking, for instance, a straight frontal view or a detail of the building – though I did also try out some of those options in some of my early sketches.”
What themes did you explore in this design?
“I wanted to convey the sheer beauty of the building in the elegance of its design. I also wanted to pare down the design so that it would focus on the structural lines and contours of the building rather than its tonal or textural details. In this way, I hoped to capture the essential essence of the building’s form that makes it such an instantly recognisable and iconic structure. It was also important to retain a focus on the entrance as the familiar point of contact that most people have with the Hall.”
What were the main challenges you found during the process?
“In the drawing process, I kept having to draw and redraw the contours to get the curves absolutely right, so that they would be both architecturally accurate and also convey the three-dimensionality of the structure as fully and as dynamically as possible using linear perspective. I also had to modify the contours, to an extent, to get the design to fit perfectly within the circular coin while maintaining its instant recognisability as the Royal Albert Hall; these were the major design challenges. They were not at all easy and took a long time to resolve, though I hope that the final result looks effortless!”
How was the overall experience designing a coin for such a historic milestone?
“The building itself is so inspiring that it was a glorious subject to have the privilege of working on. As an artist with a long specialism in images of an architectural nature, I was absolutely thrilled when my design was selected for minting. It was a design I felt had particular strength to it and it is a great honour for my work to be marking this historic anniversary for such a wonderful institution as the Royal Albert Hall. This is the first time I’ve ever had a coin design selected for minting so I’m especially delighted that it should be this historic milestone.”