Tate Britain


Millbank, SW1P 4RG


020-7887 8888



Opening times:

Daily 10:00–18:00

How to get there:

Tube: Pimlico

Entry fee:

Free (except for special exhibitions)

Additional information:

Restaurant, café and shop

Tate is a family of galleries whose large collection is displayed over four sites: the two major London galleries, Tate Britain and Tate Modern, as well as Tate Liverpool and Tate St Ives, in Cornwall. For many, the name Tate is synonymous with modern art and the controversies that surround it: the infamous ‘Bricks’ and the annual Turner Prize. Tate in fact has two roles: it houses the national collection of British art, from 1500 to the present day (displayed at Tate Britain); and the national collection of post- 1900 international art (displayed at Tate Modern and outside London). This dual purpose dates back to the early years of the gallery’s foundation, in 1897, by the sugar magnate Sir Henry Tate. An annexe of the National Gallery, the Tate displayed Sir Henry Tate’s personal collection of British art, which he had presented to the nation, as well as other British works transferred from Trafalgar Square. The gallery’s role soon expanded to incorporate modern foreign art for which, at the time, the National Gallery’s administration had little enthusiasm. It was not until 1955 that the Tate gained full independence. The gallery’s site on Millbank became increasingly inadequate to display these two collections and in the late 20th century decisive action was taken, resulting in the opening in 2000 of Tate Modern, in the dramatically transformed Bankside power station. The old Millbank site, rebranded Tate Britain, has reverted to its founding concept, as a gallery dedicated to British art.

Both galleries command imposing positions on the river: on Millbank, just beyond the Palace of Westminster; and at Bankside, opposite St Paul’s Cathedral. The two are linked by the Tate riverboat service (every 40mins during gallery opening hours). Tate Britain’s angular steel pier is designed by David Marks and Julia Barfield (designers of the London Eye), and its evening light effects by the artist Angela Bulloch. The exterior of the sleek catamaran (coloured spots) was designed by Damien Hirst.

Below is an outline of each gallery, their buildings and the major collection highlights. It should be noted that displays at both change annually, and by no means the entire collection is on show at one time. Modern and contemporary British art is shown at both sites.

Foundation and Building

Sir Henry Tate (1819–98), originally in the Liverpool grocery trade, began refining sugar in 1862 and was the pioneer producer, at his second refinery in London, of the new, patented commodity, cubed sugar. With the wealth this brought he began collecting modern British art, which he displayed in his picture gallery at his mansion, Park Hill, Streatham Common. In 1889, the offer of his collection to the National Gallery having been refused for lack of space, he donated £80,000 for the erection of a new gallery. Work began in 1894 on the site of the old Millbank Penitentiary, formerly the largest prison in Europe, from where felons were dispatched to Australia. Sidney Smith’s design, the first having attracted criticism for its excessive ornamentation and ‘pretentious’ air, still retains much decorative elaboration. Domed and temple-like, it overlooks the river, its central pedimented Corinthian portico—surmounted by Britannia flanked by the lion and the unicorn—jutting forward, the entrance up an imposing flight of steps. Sphinxes and griffins perch on top of pilasters above a heavy rusticated basement and to either side of the entrance are two bronze sculptural compositions: to the right The Rescue of Andromeda by H.C. Fehr (1893) and to the left The Death of Dirce by Sir Charles Lawes-Wittewronge (1908).

The river front block is Smith’s original gallery, which over the decades has been added to six times to provide extra space for the ever-expanding collection. To the right is the 1980s Clore Gallery, housing the Turner collection, and on Atterbury Street, to the left, is the new basement entrance, created as part of the gallery’s Centenary Development (John Miller + Partners 1997–2001), reached by long ramps behind a wall of glass. At the corner of Atterbury Street and John Islip Street, greeting visitors as they approach from Pimlico tube, is the statue of the great Pre-Raphaelite painter Sir John Everett Millais, holding his palette and brushes. Intensely interested in Tate’s new temple to British art, he died in 1896, a year before its completion.


History of Tate Britain

The gallery opened in 1897 with displays of Tate’s collection, rich in Victorian sentimental narrative pictures (Luke Fildes’s The Doctor; Stanhope Forbes’s The Health of the Bride) as well as Pre-Raphaelite works (Millais’ The Vale of Rest, and Ophelia). A gallery was dedicated to the pictures of one of the leading artists of the day, G.F. Watts, which he had presented, as well as a selection of modern British works transferred from the National Gallery. From its foundation the Tate was an annexe of the National Gallery. Works purchased through the Chantrey Bequest, the fund established by the sculptor Sir Francis Chantrey (d. 1840) for the purchase of works of art produced in Britain, which he hoped would constitute the core of a future National Gallery of British Art and which came into effect on the death of his widow in 1875, were also displayed here, as were an increasing number of modern Continental works. In 1917 the Tate became the official home of modern foreign art as well as British, the latter role now extending to historic works as well as modern. It was at the Tate that the great French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist pictures presented through the Hugh Lane Bequest and the Courtauld Fund were first shown, necessitating the building of new galleries to accommodate them. Funded by Lord Duveen and designed by Romaine-Walker, the tall, grand galleries with marble doorcases and dados along Atterbury Street, which today display historic British works, opened in 1926. The gallery’s conservative approach to modern art was, however, a defining feature of the Tate’s early years. It was slow to acquire works by Cézanne; in the 1930s there was no German Expressionism, no Surrealism, and in the post-war years no Cubist works were purchased. This reluctance to engage with the avant-garde hampered the formation of a modern art collection of weight and distinction.

Following a disastrous flood in 1928 which engulfed the lower galleries, damaged 18 works beyond repair and submerged J.M.W. Turner’s portfolios and watercolours, which had to be spread out to dry on the upper floors, Duveen funded the building of new galleries for the display of sculpture. Built in 1935–37 by the New York architect J. Russell Pope with Romaine-Walker and Jenkins, the imperious, monumental Duveens stretch like a great cathedral nave, vast and echoing, down the spine of the building. The Tate was badly damaged by bombing in 1940–41, sustaining almost nightly damage, including two bombs through the main dome (shrapnel wounds are clearly visible on the Atterbury Street façade) and renovations took until 1949. Post-war additions to the gallery include the large 1979 extension; the 1987 Clore Gallery; and the 2001 redevelopment by John Miller + Partners which created, as well as the new Atterbury Street entrance, new temporary exhibition galleries and remodelled display galleries on the main floor, accessed via the new grand staircase.

The old river front entrance is still the most impressive. From here the view down the Duveens is immediately visible, with galleries to either side. To the left are stairs, with a large stained glass window (1947) designed by the Hungarian emigré artist Ervin Bossányi, which, although branded ‘abhorrent’ when it arrived, was nevertheless installed, as it had been paid for through public subscription. (Other windows by Bossányi adorn Canterbury Cathedral.) The stairs lead to the inviting Restaurant (crisp white tablecloths and an excellent wine list), the original Refreshment Room, with lighthearted murals by Rex Whistler, The Expedition to Pursue Rare Meats (1925).

The Tate gained official independence from the National Gallery in 1955. It seems always to have attracted controversy. In the first half of the 20th century the mediocre, sentimental Chantrey pictures were criticised, as was the gallery’s failure fully to embrace developments in modern art. In 1952 Zsa Zsa Gabor caused a minor stir, photographed at the gallery with a leg indecorously draped over a sculpture plinth. In the 1960s and 70s the Tate became closely identified with contemporary art, staging live performance art and a succession of enthusiastically received contemporary exhibitions. On 25 October 1971, 90 white pigeons were released on the gallery’s steps to celebrate Picasso’s 90th birthday. Acquisitions such as Carl Andre’s Equivalent VIII, the famous ‘Bricks’ (held by Tate Modern) have caused public protest and bafflement, as does the Turner Prize exhibition, held at Tate Britain every autumn.


The Collection


NB: Because of Tate Britain’s many thematic hangs, it is not always possible to give room numbers for chronological collections. Room numbers when given indicate where a large proportion of the works mentioned may be found.


Tudor & Stuart Collection (Rooms 1–2 & 3)

Tate Britain’s displays are shown in a broadly chronological sequence, beginning with the Tudor and Stuart collection, shown in two new galleries, part of the 2001 redevelopment, at the top of and to the left of the Manton staircase. The earliest picture is the collection is Man in a Black Cap (1545) by John Bettes, who possibly trained in Holbein’s studio. Other portraits include wealthy ladies in elaborate costumes, denoting rank and status, by Hans Eworth, who worked for Mary Tudor. The love of surface ornament and decoration is particularly apparent in Hilliard’s Elizabeth I, the ‘Phoenix Portrait’ (c. 1575–56), the only large-scale (as opposed to miniature) work known by the artist. Rich in symbolism, the picture shows the queen holding a Tudor rose, while the Phoenix Jewel at her breast alludes to her youthfulness, celibacy and the continuation of her dynasty. The Queen’s Painter, Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger, is represented through a number of works, the most extraordinary being the full-length Captain Thomas Lee, 1594, shown as an Irish footsoldier with open shirt and bare legs. Lee was a kinsman of Sir Henry Lee of Ditchley, and this portrait of him is similar to Gheeraerts’s ‘Ditchley Portrait’ of Queen Elizabeth in its use of elaborate symbolism. One of the most popular works is The Cholmondeley Ladies, a regional portrait of two women born, married and brought to bed on the same day: they sit in bed, stiffly painted in large starched ruffs, holding their tightly swaddled babies. The full-length James Hamilton, 1st Duke of Hamilton, standing in a deeply shadowed interior in fine red stockings, was painted by Daniel Mytens, who brought to England a new realism.

Anthony van Dyck, who settled in England in 1632 and became Charles I’s Principal Painter, revolutionised portrait painting in Britain with his sophisticated handling of paint and the courtly swagger of his poses. The gallery has a good collection of works by Sir Peter Lely, Charles II’s Principal Painter, including his beautiful Ladies of the Lake Family; and an excellent collection of works by Sir Godfrey Kneller, the official painter of William and Mary, Anne and George I. His style influenced generations of British painters. His portrait of John Banckes, a London merchant (1676), was the first work he painted in England, and the imposing Philip, Lord Wharton (1684), shown seated in Parliament robes, is among his finest. The second half of the 17th century witnessed a proliferation of new genres. The Tate has paintings, drawings and etchings by Francis Barlow, the first native-born landscape and animal artist; landscapes by Jan Siberechts, including his beautiful Landscape with Rainbow, Henley on Thames; and still life pieces by Edward Collier, collecting together objects symbolic of the transience of life.


Early 18th Century (Room 4)

This collection is rich in works by one of Britain’s great painters, William Hogarth, as well as his contemporaries. By Hogarth is his famous self-portrait, Portrait of the Painter and his Pug, the palette in the foreground bearing the ‘Line of Beauty’, central to Hogarth’s ideas on harmony and beauty in art. Further works include Heads of Six of the Artist’s Servants; The Beggar’s Opera VI; O The Roast Beef of Old England, full of anti-Gallic patriotic feeling; his genteel conversation piece The Strode Family, the small-scale figures elegantly taking tea; and one of his finest portraits, Benjamin Hoadly, seated in his Bishop’s robes. By Highmore are scenes illustrating Samuel Richardson’s best-selling moral novel, Pamela; and by Francis Hayman the large See-Saw, one of numerous pictures produced to decorate the supper boxes at the fashionable Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens. Urban and landscape views include Balthasar Nebot’s Covent Garden Market; Samuel Scott’s views of the Thames, including his large An Arch of Westminster Bridge; and George Lambert’s A View of Box Hill, Surrey, a favourite picnic spot.


Later 18th Century (Rooms 5–7)

Grand Manner works include portraits by Sir Joshua Reynolds, the Royal Academy’s first President. His ennobling portraits, elevated to the status of history painting, include Three Ladies Adorning a Term of Hymen (‘The Montgomery Sisters’; 1773), showing the sisters paying homage to the Greek god of marriage, and Admiral Viscount Keppel.

Tate has a large collection of works by Thomas Gainsborough, the other great portrait painter of the age, including an image of the vivacious Italian dancer Giovanna Baccelli, and the dignified full-length Benjamin Truman. Gainsborough’s preferred inclination was landscape painting of which the gallery has several important examples, ranging from early views of his native Suffolk to grander, more idealised scenes such as Sunset: Carthorses Drinking at a Stream. Further portraits include key pieces by Cotes; Zoffany (including Col. Mordaunt’s Cock Match, an early view of the British in India); Romney (The Beaumont Family; Lady Hamilton as Circe) and Wright of Derby, the latter’s Sir Brooke Boothby (1781) shown relaxing and contemplative in a shady wood.

The lofty ideals of Neoclassical history painting are demonstrated in well-known images such as Benjamin West’s Cleombrotus Ordered into Banishment by Leonidas II, King of Sparta (1768) and works by Gavin Hamilton; dramatic pieces such as James Barry’s King Lear Weeping over the Dead Body of Cleopatra (1786–88); and John Singleton Copley’s large and famous The Death of Major Peirson, 6 January 1781, in which the majesty of antiquity is applied to contemporary history.

Of the later 18th-century landscape painters Tate has a good selection of works by the leading master Richard Wilson: landscapes of Italy, such as Rome: St Peter’s and the Vatican from the Janiculum, inspired by the classical landscapes of Claude, as well as native views such as Llyn-y-Cau, Cader Idris; and major works by the famous painter of horses, George Stubbs: Mares and Foals in a River Landscape; the idealised vision of country toil, Haymakers and Reapers; and A Horse Frightened by a Lion, and A Horse Devoured by a Lion, more elevated pieces, the horse’s pose based on an antique sculpture. Eighteenth-century romantic landscape is nobly represented by Wright of Derby’s An Iron Forge and Vesuvius in Eruption, and the terror of the sublime in de Loutherbourg’s Avalanche in the Alps.


The Blake Collection (Room 8)

The Tate is well known for its collection of works by the visionary genius, artist and poet William Blake (1757–1827). Blake’s works have been an important component of the collection from its earliest years. In 1913 the gallery staged a Blake exhibition, by which time it already owned some important tempera works, and Blake’s work provided the subjects for Boris Anrep’s mosaic pavement (1923) commissioned for the octagonal gallery which terminates the west wing of Sidney Smith’s 1897 gallery. The collection is of international importance and includes Blake’s illustrations to Dante’s Divine Comedy, and other works which demonstrate Blake’s very personal philosophy and iconography. Highlights include the large colour-print Newton; Elohim Creating Adam (1795); the Frontispiece to the ‘Visions of the Daughters of Albion’; and The Ghost of a Flea.


The Constable Collection (Rooms 10–11)

Also of outstanding importance is the collection of works by John Constable (1776–1837), one of Britain’s most famous and internationally admired landscape artists. The collection ranges from early works painted in and around his native Suffolk, at East Bergholt, Flatford and Dedham, to grander works, painted in London but based on previous sketches. Constable placed enormous emphasis on observation from nature, and on show are numerous rapidly executed and evocative sketches, of entire scenes or details such as scudding clouds. Highlights include Flatford Mill; Fenn Lane, East Bergholt; Hampstead Heath with the House called ‘The Salt Box’; Chain Pier, Brighton; The Valley Farm; and the Sketch for ‘Hadleigh Castle’, a full-size sketch for a work exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1829, a working method Constable used when creating his famous ‘six-footers’.


Early to Mid-19th Century

Landscape painting includes the Norwich School artists (John Crome’s The Poringland Oak and John Sell Cotman’s The Drop Gate); John Linnell (Kensington Gravel Pits) as well as more monumental works, such as John Ward’s mighty Gordale Scar, a work of breathtaking proportions. Nightmarish apocalyptic scenes include Francis Danby’s The Deluge, and John Martin’s trio, The Plains of Heaven, The Last Judgement and The Great Day of His Wrath (all in Room 14). At the same time small-scale domestic genre pictures were popular, animal pictures ‘inspiring delicate sympathies’, and historical scenes from national history and literature. It was precisely this type of picture that was enjoyed by Robert Vernon, a London horse dealer who had bequeathed his collection of modern British pictures to the National Gallery. Displayed at the V&A, and later transferred to the Tate, they include William Mulready’s The Last In; Sir Edwin Landseer’s The Hunted Stag and Dignity and Impudence (two dogs); J.F. Herring’s The Frugal Meal (horses); C.R. Leslie’s Sancho Panza in the Apartments of the Duchess; and E.M. Ward’s The South Sea Bubble. David Wilkie’s Blind Fiddler was part of Sir George Beaumont’s founding gift to the National Gallery.


The Victorian Collection (Rooms 9 & 15)

Tate’s collection of Pre-Raphaelite and later Victorian works is outstanding. Among the many well known major masterpieces are Ford Madox Brown’s The Hayfield and The Last of England; William Holman Hunt’s The Awakening Conscience and On England’s Coasts, 1852 (‘Strayed Sheep’); Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s Ecce Ancilla Domini!, Beata Beatrix, The Beloved (‘The Bride’) and Monna Vanna; and Sir John Everett Millais’ Christ in the House of His Parents, The Vale of Rest, The Order of Release and Ophelia, one of the stars of Sir Henry Tate’s collection and one of the gallery’s most popular pictures. There is also a relatively recent Millais purchase, Mariana, an illustration to Tennyson’s poem of the same name. Other familiar works are Arthur Hughes’s April Love and Henry Wallis’s Chatterton, a highly romanticised view of the poet shortly after his suicide. Later works include Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones’s King Cophetua and the Beggarmaid and Love and the Pilgrim, and Waterhouse’s Lady of Shalott.

As well as the works presented to the Tate by G.F. Watts on its foundation in 1897, the Tate’s collection of late Victorian works includes Frederic, Lord Leighton’s heroic sculpture An Athlete Wrestling with a Python and his monumental And the Sea Gave up the Dead Which Were in It. William Powell Frith’s Derby Day, described by Ruskin as ‘of the entirely popular manner of painting’, created a sensation when exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1858, and was taken on a world tour. Sentimental narratives, ever popular pictures at Royal Academy Summer Exhibitions, include Sir William Quiller Orchardson’s The First Cloud (a married couple’s first argument), as well as more substantial pieces such as Sir Luke Fildes’s The Doctor, his most famous painting, the light of the sombre interior falling on the dying child. Stanhope Forbes’s The Health of the Bride and Sir Frank Bramley’s A Hopeless Dawn, key works of the Newlyn School, show the drama of ordinary lives.

James Abbott McNeill Whistler abandoned the Academy-led insistence on the importance of narrative and focused instead on the effects of light and atmosphere. His ‘art for art’s sake’ aesthetic was fiercely attacked by Ruskin: Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Old Battersea Bridge was painted during the famous trial for libel after Ruskin had accused him of throwing a pot of paint in the face of the public—which Whistler won, but received damages of just one farthing. The Tate has an important collection of portraits by John Singer Sargent. As well as the slick society Wertheimer portraits, the most famous picture is Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose (1885–86), showing the pink glow of Chinese lanterns in the evening dusk.


Early 20th Century (Rooms 19 & 21)

The response to Continental Post-Impressionism saw the emergence in England of a vigorous, innovative avant-garde. The Camden Town Group, established in 1911 by Walter Sickert and others, was influenced by Post-Impressionism’s emphasis on realism and the effects of light. The sombre, realist, mainly urban, scenes include Sickert’s La Hollandaise (c. 1906) and Ennui (c. 1914); Spencer Gore’s The Cinder Path (1912); Harold Gilman’s Café Royal; Charles Ginner’s Piccadilly Circus (1912); and works by Robert Bevan. Bloomsbury Group works, influenced by Cézanne, include works by Duncan Grant, Vanessa Bell, and Henry Lamb’s Lytton Strachey (1914). Mark Gertler’s highly original Merry-go-Round (1916) is a strident anti-war statement while Matthew Smith’s Nude, Fitzroy Street (1916), in its vivid use of colour, displays the influence of Matisse. Wyndham Lewis’s Workshop (c .1914–15), David Bomberg’s The Mud Bath (1914) and In the Hold, and works by Christopher Nevinson and other Vorticists, with their diagonals, fragmented geometry and emphasis on urban industrialism, display the influence of Cubism and Futurism.

The great pioneers of modern sculpture in Britain were Jacob Epstein and Henri Gaudier-Brzeska (Red Stone Dancer, c. 1913). One of the most important and popular works is Epstein’s massive Jacob and the Angel (1940–41), the angel’s wings a great slab of alabaster. Torso in Metal from ‘The Rock Drill’ (1913–14) is Epstein’s major work of the pre-First World War period, a former 10-ft looming robotic figure which he dismantled in 1916, casting the head and torso only in bronze.

The years following the First World War saw a return to more traditional, figurative painting. The dominant figure was Stanley Spencer, whose greatest work, The Resurrection, Cookham (1924–27), is a personal, religious vision of modern life. Completed in 1927, it was exhibited and immediately purchased for the national collection, hailed by The Times as ‘the most important picture painted by any English artist in the present century’. Also in the collection is his popular Swan Upping (1914–19); John Nash’s sleepy views of rural England, including The Cornfield; and works by Sir Alfred Munnings, Augustus John, Meredith Frampton; and Cedric Morris’s portrait of his sister’s bull terrier, Belle of Bloomsbury (1948).


Mid-20th Century

Tate has an excellent collection of works by the outstanding figures of English abstraction, Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore, Ben Nicholson and Paul Nash. In touch with abstract artists in Paris, through the Seven and Five Society and Unit One, they promoted ‘the expression of a truly contemporary spirit’. Works include Nicholson’s Guitar (1933) and White Relief (1935); Paul Nash’s Equivalents for the Megaliths (1935); Edward Wadsworth’s The Beached Margin (1937), with its hint of Surrealism; and Victor Pasmore’s Spiral Motif in Green, Violet, Blue and Gold: The Coast of the Inland Sea (1950). Hepworth’s Three Forms (1935), three white polished marble shapes of the utmost purity and simplicity, and Pelagos (1946) reflect her preoccupation with form. Henry Moore was the leading British sculptor of the mid-20th century and one of the leaders in the revival of direct carving. Tate has a large collection of important works including Recumbent Figure (1938), of Hornton stone; Reclining Figure (1951); and King and Queen (1952–53). By 1939 Nicholson and Hepworth had moved to Cornwall, near St Ives, where the ‘naïve primitive’ amateur artist Alfred Wallis was discovered and to where a younger generation of artists was attracted. The St Ives School included Terry Frost (Green, Black and White Movement, 1957, showing boats bobbing on the water in St Ives harbour), Patrick Heron (Horizontal Stripe Painting: November 1957–January 1958), Roger Hilton and Peter Lanyon.

The leading British Pop artists of the late 1950s and 60s were Richard Hamilton (She, 1958) and Peter Blake (Self Portrait with Badges, 1961). A second phase of Pop was taken up by a group of artists trained at the Royal College of Art, including David Hockney (his Typhoo tea painting, Tea Painting in an Illusionistic Style) and works by Patrick Caulfield. The ‘New Generation’ of British sculptors, who moved from carved work to abstract constructions in industrial metals, brightly painted steel or modern materials such as fibreglass and plastics, is represented by Anthony Caro’s Early One Morning (1962) and Night Movements (1987–90), four large, dark crouching shapes of steel; Phillip King’s Tra-La-La (1963) and works by Eduardo Paolozzi and William Turnbull.


Later 20th Century

Twentieth-century works continuing the Realist or Figurative tradition include Graham Sutherland’s landscapes and his portrait of Somerset Maugham; Lucien Freud’s Girl with a White Dog (1950–51) and Standing by the Rags (1988–89); Michael Andrews’ The Deer Park (1962), as well as works by Frank Auerbach, R.B. Kitaj and Leon Kossoff. The Tate has important works by David Hockney, such as his enduringly popular Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy (showing the fashion designer Ossie Clark, a white cat on his lap, his toes buried in a hairy shagpile carpet, with his wife, the textile designer Celia Birtwell), and his witty Californian work The Bigger Splash. The large collection of works by one of the most important 20th-century British artists, Francis Bacon, includes Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (c. 1944), and another grand triptych, Triptych: August 1972, its blurred and fused images of contemporary man based on the work of the pioneer stop-action photographer Eadweard Muybridge.

Since the 1970s conceptual art and installations have been an important component of British modern art, such as Gilbert and George’s ‘action’ works, Richard Long’s sculptural interventions in the natural environment and indoor installations (Slate Circle, 1979), and Tony Cragg’s On the Savannah (1988). Anish Kapoor’s As if to Celebrate, I Discovered a Mountain Blooming with Red Flowers (1981), peaked shapes covered in a vibrant red, loose, pure pigment, refers to the birth of the goddess Devi out of a fiery mountain composed of the bodies of male gods, while Cornelia Parker’s Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View (1991) fills a gallery with suspended charcoal fragments, the remains of an exploded solid form, lighting casting dramatic shadows.


The Turner Prize

The annual Turner Prize takes place at Tate Britain every autumn, with an exhibition of the work of the four shortlisted artists. The televised announcement of the winner usually takes place in October. Past winners include Howard Hodgkin and Gilbert and George, and exhibitions have showcased the work of the Young British Artists, or YBAs, such as Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin, now household names. ‘YBA’ works in the collection include Hirst’s Pharmacy (1992), a room-sized installation of a pharmacy interior, its shelves and cabinets stacked with drugs, those for the head at the top, those for the stomach in the middle, and so on; Gillian Wearing’s Signs That Say What You Want Them To Say … (1992–93); Rachel Whiteread’s Untitled (‘Stairs’; 2001), the cast of the stairs and the space between the landings of a house in Bethnal Green; as well as works by Emin and the photography, film and video artist Sam Taylor-Wood.


The Clore Gallery and Turner Collection (Rooms 35–43 & Rooms 44–45 on Level 3)

Arguably the most famous of all British artists is J.M.W. Turner (1775–1851). His subjects were classical mythology and history, contemporary events and natural disaster, painted with a concern for the changing atmospheric effects of light: golden sunsets, raging storms, tossing waves and enveloping mists. Even in his own lifetime Turner was recognised as one of the greatest of all landscape painters. His early inspirations were Claude and Willem van de Velde the Younger. As his style developed, it became increasingly romantic and original, culminating in the great proto-Impressionist works for which he is so celebrated today. His brilliant image of the shadowy dome of the Salute looming out of the mist of the Venetian lagoon seems ‘reminiscent’ of Monet, even though it pre-dates Monet by almost half a century. Some of his work, where concrete forms are dissolved and diffused by the effects of light and colour, are almost abstract in feel. Turner had bequeathed his unsold pictures, watercolours, sketchbooks and other paraphernalia to the nation, but for lack of space at the National Gallery they were shown first at Marlborough House, then at the V&A. In 1910 new Turner galleries opened at the Tate, but following the 1928 flood the works on paper and archive material were removed to the British Museum. In 1987 the Clore Gallery, designed by James Stirling, Michael Wilford and Associates and funded by the Clore Foundation, reunited the Turner Bequest. It is a brash Post-Modern building linked to the 1897 river block, in red brick, cream and bright green, with its own entrance through a large glass void in the shape of a classical pediment. Inside, the walls are dark peach with purple and pink details. A tall staircase leads up to the main gallery level. The vast collection incorporates all periods and aspects of Turner’s art, as well as personal items such as his paint boxes. Highlights include his early The Shipwreck, exhibited in 1805; Crossing the Brook; Snow Storm: Hannibal and his Army Crossing the Alps; Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage; Snow Storm: Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth; Peace: Burial at Sea; Norham Castle, Sunrise, as well as a wealth of watercolours and sketches demonstrating his evolution as an artist, his working methods and his sketching tours around Britain and the Continent.

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Details below are taken from our Blue Guide Museums and Galleries of London.  This is a 2005 title, here generally updated for website address and opening times, with useful comments from some of the museums themselves.  More recent information is given in Emily Barber's magisterial new Blue Guide London, "Exceptional update to a classic and useful guide to this amazing city" (Amazon reader review).

FULL LISTING of CURRENT EXHIBITIONS in London from Apollo Magazine »

Emily Barber recommends five major London museums »

Please do share your comments and updates with us via the form below the entry for each museum.


National Maritime Museum
Wimbledon Windmill Museum
Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum
2 Willow Road (National Trust)
William Morris Gallery
Whitechapel Gallery
Westminster Abbey Museum
Wesley's Chapel
Wellington Arch (English Heritage)
Wallace Collection
Victoria & Albert Museum
Tower Bridge Exhibition
Tower of London (Historic Royal Palaces)
Tate Modern
Tate Britain
Sutton House (National Trust)
Spencer House
Southside House
South London Art Gallery
The Courtauld Institute of Art (Somerset House)
Sir John Soane's Museum
Shakespeare’s Globe
Serpentine Gallery
Science Museum
St Bride’s Crypt Museum
St Bartholomew’s Hospital Museum
Saatchi Gallery
Royal Society of Arts
The Royal Mews
Royal London Hospital Museum
The Faraday Museum
Royal Hospital Chelsea
RCM Museum of Music
Royal Academy of Music Museum
Royal Academy of Arts
Red House (National Trust)
Ranger’s House (English Heritage)
Ragged School Museum
The Queen’s Gallery
Prince Henry’s Room
The Photographers’ Gallery
Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology
Osterley Park (National Trust)
Orleans House Gallery
Old Operating Theatre, Museum and Herb Garret
Natural History Museum
National Portrait Gallery
National Gallery
National Army Museum
Musical Museum
World Rugby Museum
Museum of the Order of St John
Museum No. 1 (Royal Botanic Gardens)
Museum of London
Garden Museum
Museum in Docklands (Museum of London)
The Royal Observatory
The Queen's House
Old Royal Naval College
Marianne North Gallery (Royal Botanic Gardens)
Marble Hill House (English Heritage)
Mall Galleries
Lord’s Tour and MCC Museum
London Transport Museum
London Fire Brigade Museum
London Canal Museum
18 Stafford Terrace – The Sambourne Family Home
Library and Museum of Freemasonry
Leighton House
Kingston Museum
Kew Palace (Historic Royal Palaces)
London Museum of Water & Steam
Kenwood House (English Heritage)
Kensington Palace (Historic Royal Palaces)
Keats House
Jewish Museum
Jewel Tower (English Heritage)
Jerwood Space
Imperial War Museum
ICA Institute of Contemporary Arts
Hunterian Museum
Horniman Museum
HMS Belfast (Imperial War Museum)
Hayward Gallery
Handel House Museum
Hampton Court Palace (Historic Royal Palaces)
Ham House (National Trust)
Guildhall Art Gallery
Guards Museum
Grant Museum of Zoology & Comparative Anatomy
Geffrye Museum of the Home
Fulham Palace
Freud Museum
Foundling Museum
Forty Hall & Estate
Florence Nightingale Museum
Firepower: The Royal Artillery Museum
Fenton House (National Trust)
Fashion and Textile Museum
Fan Museum
Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art
Eltham Palace (English Heritage)
Dulwich Picture Gallery
Dr Johnson’s House
Dennis Severs' House
Danson House
Cutty Sark
Contemporary Applied Arts
Chiswick House (English Heritage)
Chelsea Physic Garden
Chartered Insurance Institute Museum
Charles Dickens Museum
Carlyle’s House (National Trust)
Camden Arts Centre
Cabinet War Rooms & Churchill Museum (Imperial War Museum)
Burgh House - The Hampstead Museum
Buckingham Palace
Brunel Engine House
Brunei Gallery SOAS
British Optical Association Museum
The British Museum
The British Library
Bramah Museum of Tea and Coffee
Black Cultural Archives
Museum of Childhood (Victoria & Albert Museum)
Bethlem Museum of the Mind
Benjamin Franklin House
Ben Uri Gallery - The London Jewish Museum of Art
Barbican Art Gallery
Banqueting House (Historic Royal Palaces)
Bankside Gallery
Bank of England Museum
All Hallows Undercroft Museum
Alexander Fleming Laboratory Museum




Most visited

Hampton Court Palace (Historic Royal Palaces)
17751 times viewed
Museum of London
12146 times viewed
Geffrye Museum of the Home
8830 times viewed
Southside House
8040 times viewed
Lord’s Tour and MCC Museum
7967 times viewed
The British Museum
7359 times viewed
The Royal Observatory
7048 times viewed
Sir John Soane's Museum
7042 times viewed
National Gallery
6739 times viewed
Victoria & Albert Museum
6629 times viewed
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