World-class art is everywhere you look when it comes to a trip to the capital.
Seeking out an iconic work from art history? It’s on your doorstep. Want to find the next big thing in the art world? There’s no better place to spot them first.
If you’re looking for a serious art fix in London, these are the art galleries you need to have on your list.
The National Gallery is the first place to go if you want to see work by some of the most famous artists from history. Nearly seven hundred years of work from the world’s greatest artists can be found here, including Leonardo, Van Gogh, Monet, Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Vermeer, Rubens – seriously we could go on for a while. A wander from the The Wilton Diptych in the 14th century galleries to Pablo Picasso’s early works is both an intensely pleasant afternoon and a pretty consummate art history lesson.
Trafalgar Square, Covent Garden, WC2N 5DN, nationalgallery.org.uk
Another great one for name-dropping, but also for keeping your finger on the pulse. Tate Modern showcases work from 1900 onwards, which means modernist pioneers mix with work that’s happening right now. The addition of the Herzog de Meuron-designed building has made it both bigger and better, but the grand old Turbine Hall still has the power to strike awe into visitors, particularly when hosting one of its signature epic installations.
Bankside, SE1 9TG, tate.org.uk
You can see artists from all around the world in London, but that doesn’t mean you should forget about us Brits. Tate Britain is similarly era-spanning to its younger sister gallery, but focuses on homegrown talent. This means you can see works by the likes of landscape master Turner, members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, 20th century painters Freud and Bacon, as well as Turner Prize winners and nominees.
Millbank, Westminster, SW1P 4RG, tate.org.uk
Royal Academy of Arts
It’s one of the country’s most celebrated gallery spaces, which is no small achievement seeing as that’s the Royal Academy’s side gig. The 250 year old RA started out as and continues to be a functioning art school, but is known to most for its world-class exhibitions. It doesn’t have its collection on permanent display, so puts all its oomph into blockbuster shows, ranging in recent years from an Ai Weiwei show to an exploration of abstract expressionism . And of course, the famous open submission Summer Exhibition is never one to miss.
Burlington House, Piccadilly, Mayfair, W1J 0BD, royalacademy.org.uk
National Portrait Gallery
London’s West End is pretty good for celeb spotting, but the easiest place to do it is probably at the National Portrait Gallery. It’s home to kings, queens, cultural juggernauts and sporting heroes – all in portrait form, of course – with a collection spanning over five hundred years of painting history. You can find Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn in the Tudor galleries, Mary Jane Seacole and the Bronte sisters in the Victorian galleries, right up to Amy Winehouse and the Queen in the contemporary galleries.
St. Martin’s Place, Covent Garden, WC2H 0HE, npg.org.uk
As part of one of the biggest arts centre’s in Europe, the Barbican’s art gallery is known for pushing the boundaries with brilliant shows. As well as this kudos, it has a reputation for bringing artists and subjects on the outskirts of modern art history to a wider audience through incisive exhibitions. Recent shows have included an exploration of 20th century countercultures through photography , and a blockbuster show on painter Jean-Michel Basquiat.
1 Silk Street, The City, EC2Y 8DS, barbican.org.uk
The Wallace Collection
Not so much a gallery as an art-filled time portal, this considerable collection of 18th and 19th century fine art and design at Hertford House is the work of Sir Richard Wallace and his ancestors. Paintings in the collection include works by Rembrandt, Fragonard, Rubens, Canaletto, Velazquez and the wonderful Laughing Cavalier by Franz Hals.
Hertford House, Manchester Square, Mayfair, W1U 3BN, wallacecollection.org
Dulwich Picture Gallery
A little bit of history for you here: Dulwich Picture Gallery is the world’s very first purpose-built public art gallery. Sir John Soane was the legendary architect who worked on it, designing it in a groundbreaking way that allowed oodles of natural light into the exhibition space. Under its roof you’ll find works by Old Masters of the 18th and 19th centuries, including Rembrandt, Murillo, Van Dyck, Poussin, Gainsborough and Constable.
Gallery Road, Dulwich, SE21 7AD, dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk
Art fans were a very happy bunch when the Hayward Gallery reopened its doors in early 2018 after two years off, and were even happier when things kicked off with an exhibition by large scale photographer Andreas Gursky . The Brutalist building focuses largely on contemporary art with the occasional nod to its modernist roots, with other 2018 exhibitions including a survey of work by Korean artist Lee Bul , and the first major art exhibition about drag .
Southbank Centre, 337-338 Belvedere Road, SE1 8XX, southbankcentre.co.uk
If you walked through Hyde Park this summer, it would have been pretty difficult to miss the 20m tall, bright-coloured floating artwork on the Serpentine Lake. This was in conjunction with a Christo and Jeanne Claude exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery, which has a tendency to extend its love for contemporary art outside its walls and into the surrounding park. Look out also for the Serpentine Pavillion, a pop-up structure showing the work of a different architect every year.
Kensington Gardens, Kensington, W2 3XA, serpentinegalleries.org
For many years the East End has been a hub for artists and Whitechapel Gallery has been there for over a hundred of them. Its focus, however, is largely on what’s happening now and next. Although it’s not averse to a 20th century artists’ retrospective, its links with London’s working artist community is strong and ongoing, so it’s a great place to find work by new artists on their way to becoming household names.
77-82 Whitechapel High Street, Whitechapel, E1 7QX, whitechapelgallery.org
Everyone recognises the name of this groundbreaking London gallery, which is responsible for launching the careers of many young artists. The Saatchi Gallery is probably best known for its role in turning the YBAs (Young British Artists), from Hirst to Emin, into global superstars at the height of the Nineties – but it’s still captivating London’s art lovers with challenging contemporary art exhibitions to this day.
Duke of York’s HQ, King’s Road, Chelsea, SW3 4RY, saatchigallery.com
The Photographers’ Gallery
If you’re looking for some cultural respite from the retail cacophony on Oxford Street, it doesn’t get much better than a trip to the Photographers’ Gallery. If you’re a dab hand with the ‘gram, then a trip to the biggest gallery in the UK dedicated to photography is highly recommended with exhibitions showcasing contemporary developments and explorations of the medium’s past.
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