London Art Museums – From Royal to Radical

They’re housed in buildings which run the gamut of being among the ugliest in the world (the Barbican) to the neoclassical splendor of the National Gallery. But the most remarkable aspects of London’s art museums lies not in their exteriors, but in what lies within: vast collections of priceless artworks from every age. If your trip to London will include time at some of the city’s great art museums, these are our four top recommendations.

The Royal Academy of Arts

Dating back to 1786 and the reign of King George III, the Royal Academy, in the Burlington House, was the first British institution established for the single purpose of promoting the arts and architecture. It has eighty governing artist at a time, all of whom must be active artist and who resign as active governors at the age of 75. Each of these ‘Royal Academicians” is expected to give an original artwork to the Academy, and those gifts have become the foundation of its permanent collection. They include paintings by Gainsborough, Constable, Reynolds, and Turner.

The Royal Academy also presents remarkable visiting exhibits, one of which of was 2007’s The Unknown Monet: Pastels and Drawings. This exhibit was the first to show that, contrary to popular belief, Monet spent considerable time doing drawn studies of his works before he ever set his paintbrush to canvas. Although he often claimed to lack drawing ability, this exhibit emphatically proved otherwise.

The Tate Modern

If ever an art museum captured the s spirit of a specific century, it would be the Tate Modern Museum capturing the spirit of the 20th century. The upheaval of two World Wars accompanied by the full blossoming of post-Industrial revolution technology created a freedom among artists who dared to work in brand-new styles and media

The Tate Modern Museum, situated on London’s South bank in full view of St. Paul’s Cathedral directly across the Thames, has also taken a new approach to displaying its treasures. They are grouped not according to artist or chronology, but according to concept, with each of the two wings of its 3rd and 5th floors containing exhibits of paintings arranged by theme.

You’ll find the works of, among others, Rothko, Monet, Dali, and Miro represented on the 3rd floor, while the 5th floor houses conceptual art and modern sculpture including pieces from the Cubist, Minimalist, and Futuristic Schools. The Tate Museum’s visiting exhibits are on the 4th floor. Works of all the great post-war modernists like Pollock, Matisse, Bacon, and Twombly are on view at the Tate, and the permanent collection can be seen at no charge.

There are special activities for children whose artistic appreciation is not fully developed, qualifying a visit to the Tate Modern as a family-friendly way to spend the day.

The Hayward

Also situated on the South bank, as part of the arts complex known as the Southbank Centre, the Hayward’s massive concrete exterior houses an art gallery which has no permanent collection of its own. The Hayward instead is the venue for between three and four major touring exhibitions each year, for which it charges entrance fees. Exhibits at the Hayward include artworks from all periods, and some of its more memorable shows have included works by da Vinci, the French Impressionists, and Edward Munch.

In more recent years, however, the exhibitions at the Hayward have been by such artists as Gormley and Flavin, whose work is more in harmony with the cavernous spaces and concrete of the structure.

The Courtauld Gallery

A relatively small art gallery located in the Courtauld Institute of Art at Somerset House. While its collection contains pieces from every period of paining, the Courtauld Gallery is best known for its Impressionist and post-Impressionist paintings. Perhaps the most famous of these is Vincent Van Gogh’s self-portrait, painted after he had severed his right ear with a knife. All the collections donated to the Courtauld Gallery are exhibited intact.

London is a city rich with the culture of centuries, and these four art museums are just a handful of the cultural glories which await you during your stay!


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