London offers a multitude of choices for Art enthusiasts.
Every art form has its own space, thanks to some of the world’s most prestigious museums and the countless galleries dotted throughout the city.
Founded by the Romans in the first century A.D., London soon became an important administrative and communications centre, as well as a commercial port for continental Europe.
For at least a thousand years, it was the main residence of British monarchs, the government seat and trade hub, flaunting its prestige by embellishing itself with historic palaces, monumental works and art from all eras and all parts of the world, especially the colonies.
The city’s artistic vocation is also confirmed by the presence of long-established and prestigious auction houses. Sotheby’s, founded in 1744, has gained such renown that some of its auctions have become a worldwide sensation.
With the exception of temporary exhibitions, admission to all the national museums is free. Excellent audio guides are available in several languages for a supplement.
Exhibitions are always expertly curated and accompanied by multimedia systems with a view to more effectively conveying and transmitting the significance of the works. Often there are special guides and itineraries to introduce children to art.
The British Museum is the oldest public museum in the world, comprising 94 galleries of collections that span more than two thousand years of world history and culture.
The museum also includes the British Library, with its reading room that was frequented by great minds of the modern age such as Karl Marx, Gandhi and George Bernard Shaw.
Of the museum treasures, the Elgin marbles and the magnificent Greek artefacts from the Pantheon, which date to the fifth century B.C. are well worth a visit. And the same goes for the Egyptian mummies, the fine illuminated Gospels, Mayan sculptures, Aztec mosaics and wonderful Hindu statues.
Those passionate about art, the Italian Renaissance and Dutch schools of art and the seventeenth century Spanish school in particular, will not be disappointed with the National Gallery, with its more than 2200 paintings, almost all on permanent exhibition. Those short on time and unable to take in all the galleries, should dedicate their visit to the Venus at Her Mirror by Velázquez, the Annunciation by Filippo Lippi, The Adoration of the Magi by Pieter Brueghel the Elder, the extraordinary drawing by Leonardo da Vinci that portrays St. Ann with the Virgin, the Child and St. John.
For a much deserved break, we recommend the restaurant in the Sailbury Wing.
If you are curious about paranormal phenomena or love court intrigues, the gloomy Tower of London, infamous prison for enemies of the Crown and ancient torture and execution site, might be just the thing. In addition to the unsettling reminders of its bygone function, the Tower of London is also the repository of the Crown Jewels, the most famous collection of precious jewels in the world.
If you would prefer to travel around the world in a couple of days (one day will not suffice), the Victoria & Albert Museum is the place for you. Described by a former director as “an extremely capacious handbag”, the “V&A” has one of the richest, most eclectic collections of fine and applied arts in the world, exhibited in 11 km of galleries by country of origin or by technique and medium, which are all continuously updated. The Dress Collection, containing fashion from the seventeenth century to date and the sparkling jewellery hall are worthy of particular mention.
The V&A was the first museum in the world to incorporate a restaurant. The museum café is still located in the spectacular original halls known as the Refreshment Rooms, which were decorated by Morris, Paynter and Gamble, the most influential English artists of the late nineteenth century.
Another incredible destination for modern and contemporary art enthusiasts is the Tate Modern, part of a complex of four state museums: Tate Britain, Tate Liverpool, Tate St. Ives and Tate Modern. All in all, this is the largest collection of international 19th and 20th century works in the world.
The Tate Modern stands on the south bank of the Thames in a former electric facility that was converted by architects Herzog & de Meuron and inaugurated in the year 2000.
The futuristic, pedestrian Millennium Bridge, connects the museum to St. Paul’s Cathedral on the opposite bank of the river.
Tate Modern’s permanent collection is exhibited on the building’s third and fifth floors, while the second and fourth floors house the temporary exhibitions. The huge Turbine Hall, which once housed the electrical generators, is used between October and March to exhibit works specially commissioned to contemporary artists.
The permanent collection boasts works from every 20th century pictorial movement, such as Fauvism (Matisse, Derain), Cubism (Picasso, Braque, Léger), Futurism (Severini, Boccioni), Expressionism (Munch), as well as earlier works by artists such as Cézanne, Van Gogh, Renoir, Gauguin, Monet and Kandinsky. Last but not least, the Tate Modern also exhibits Jackson Pollock’s abstract works and Andy Warhol and Rot Lichtenstein’s Pop masterpieces.
Visitors to the Tate Modern and Tate Britain can take advantage of the special boat service that runs between Tate Modern and Tate Britain, along the Thames.
Tate Britain has the largest collection of British art in the world. Visitors can explore more than 500 years of creativity, including renowned British artists ranging from JMW Turner, Thomas Gainsborough, John Constable, the Pre-Raphaelites, William Blake, David Hockney and Francis Bacon to contemporary art from the Art Now series.
Fans of the Tate Modern will generally also appreciate the Design Museum, which exhibits the best in 20th century international design and has an ever-changing programme. As this is not a national museum, admission tickets must be purchased.