Answers from Our Experts (5)
Art is a matter of taste, of course, and picking the “best” among London’s many museums and galleries is a little arbitrary. The permanent collection I return to again and again is at Tate Britain. The “original” Tate Gallery (Tate Modern only opened in 2000) occupies a riverfront neoclassical building in Pimlico. The Tate has the world’s best collection of paintings by J. M. W. Turner, the Englishman whose washed-out, increasingly impressionistic works influenced both Claude Monet and Camille Pissarro when they visited London. The gallery also has the country’s best Pre-Raphaelite collection, including John Everett Millais’ Ophelia—the hyperreal detail and coloring of Millais’ painting still strikes me every time I see it. This summer, the gallery hosts a major retrospective of painter of the Industrial Revolution, L. S. Lowry.
It’s all on a much smaller-scale at the Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art. Highlights of the collection include Futurist works by Umberto Boccioni and Gino Severini, and panels by Modigliani and De Chirico. The setting, inside a Georgian residence in Islington, only heightens the feeling that you’re roaming around a wealthy philanthropist’s private collection. Which you are, sort of.
If you prefer to hang around art’s bleeding edge, time your visit to coincide with the month’s First Thursday, during which the cutting-edge galleries and spaces of East London are open til late and host events, talks and open views.
London is mecca for art lovers and whatever genre or era you're interested in there is plenty for you to explore. Here are three of the very best galleries:
This temple to contemporary art is an unmissable stop on London's art trail. Housed in an old power station it is home to hundreds of high profile works from David Hockney paintings to Marcel Duchamp's Fountain. The turbine hall is home to a constantly changing large-scale piece which always courts controversy – drop in to see what's filling this vast space this month.
The brainchild of acclaimed photographer Rankin, the Annroy Gallery is a state-of-the-art photographic studio and gallery, hosting a range of exciting contemporary exhibitions. More than merely an exhibition space, Annroy is also the heart of Rankin’s photographic practice and an intensely personal project for him. He named the building after his parents Ann and Roy and lives in a penthouse apartment here as well as having his offices and studio on-site.
National Portrait Gallery
The National Portrait Gallery was was founded in 1856 to collect portraits of famous British men and women and today features thousands of portraits from the 16th century to the present day. The most recent – and most talked about – is Paul Emsley's portrait of Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge.
London has one of the richest gallery scenes in the world, from publicly-subsidised powerhouse institutions to tiny neighborhood shopfront galleries. Picking just a couple is a tricky task, but the following will give you a good spread of the scene.
Modern and contemporary
There's nowhere better to start than at Tate Modern. This former power station on the banks of the Thames holds a enormous collection of modern and contemporary works and hosts regular displays and exhibitions. You need a ticket for major shows, but there's no general admission, so you can explore at your leisure. Not that you'd be able to, but don't miss the extraordinary Turbine Hall, which hosts large scale installations, many of which have an interactive element.
For pre-20th century art, head to the Dulwich Picture Gallery. This Sir John Soane-designed space, tucked away in leafy South East London, is something of a hidden gem. The collection of European old master paintings from the 17th and 18th centuries is superb and one of the oldest in the country, having been put together in the early 1790s. There's a modest admission fee to visit the collection, with exhibition tickets costing a little more.
The next big thing?
The commercial galleries in Cork Street, Mayfair, have launched the London careers of many artists over the years, including illustrious names such as Joan Miró. Major dealers are now based all over the capital, but there's still something special about this historic street and it's still a good place to go if you're interested in checking out the potential greats of tomorrow. Under threat from developers, it's future is uncertain, so don't delay.
The stubborn British weather is made for perusing art galleries, and London is more than equipped to keep visitors dry and entertained come rain, or cool and contented, in the rare case of blistering shine. Refreshingly, they’re mostly free too, which allows for some guilt-free on-site gift shopping or bite to eat. It would take all day to reel off the list of must-visits, so here’s a trio of the best for modern and contemporary art to whet your appetite.
Saatchi Gallery: Out of the city’s many art galleries, the Saatchi is the one I would return to again and again for the thought provoking, eye-catching, and often smile-inducing, contemporary art displays: Richard Wilson’s 20:50 oil and steel installation is particularly mind-bending. A champion of young and lesser known British and international artists, the Saatchi is a great place to seek inspiration for that next big art investment. A stone’s throw from Sloane Square Underground.
Tate Modern: With an impressive display of British and international contemporary and modern artists, and a calendar of must-see temporary exhibitions, its no wonder this Thames-side gallery is one of the world’s most visited. Rothko, Picasso, Matisse, Kandinksy, Pollock… there aren’t many well known artists not displayed among this little lot. Be sure to stop by the Tate Modern gallery shop – one of the best in my opinion - for a fantastic collection of books, postcards and other gift-worthy items. Likewise, the Level 6 restaurant is a great place for a lunch accompanied by awesome city views. Nearest Underground station: Southwark.
Serpentine Gallery: Another fine, and free, London gallery of modern and contemporary works, set in Hyde Park’s Kensington Gardens. The rolling schedule of temporary exhibitions ensures there’s always something different to entertain visitors. Every summer the Serpentine boasts the addition of a pop-up pavilion, commissioned from a different big name architect every year – Zaha Hadid, Frank Gehry and Oscar Niemeyer are among past names – playing host to the BBC Proms, film screenings, talks and a café. Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto is 2013’s contributor. Nearest Underground stations: Lancaster Gate, Knightsbridge, South Kensington.