A Mini-guide To London’s Unique Art
TATE BRITAIN – Splendidly refurbished and showing off a rehung collection, the more elderly and venerable Tate sibling celebrates paintings from 1500 to the present, with modern pieces from Lucian Freud, Barbara Hepworth, Francis Bacon, Henry Moore and Tracey Emin. The stars of the show are the visions of 19th-century English artist JMW Turner.
TATE MODERN – This outstanding art gallery, housed in a creatively revamped brick power station on South Bank, has been extraordinarily successful in bringing challenging work to the masses, both through its free permanent collection and fee-paying, big-name temporary exhibitions. There are free, guided highlights tours at 11am, noon, 2pm and 3pm daily.
SAATCHI GALLERY – Famed for courting controversy, the gallery hosts temporary exhibitions of experimental and thought-provoking work across a variety of media. The white and sanded bare-floorboard galleries are magnificently presented, but save some wonder for Gallery 13, where Richard Wilson’s beautiful 20:50 is on permanent display. An interesting shop draws visitors in on the first floor.
SERPENTINE GALLERIES – Situated in the midst of leafy Kensington Gardens, this is one of London’s most important contemporary art galleries. Each year, the gallery commissions an international architect to erect an unusual ‘Summer Pavillion’, and the galleries run a programme of readings, talks and open-air cinema screenings.
COURTAULD GALLERY – The Courtauld Gallery in Somerset House contains a wealth of masterpieces by Rubens, Cezanne, Degas, Renoir, Manet, Monet and Seurat, to mention a few, but it is particularly known for its 19th-century Impressionist collection. Works to look out for include Manet’s A Bar at the Folies-Berg£re; Vincent Van Gogh’s Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear; and Gauguin’s Nevermore.
NATIONAL PORTRAIT GALLERY – What makes the NPG so compelling is its familiarity; in many cases you’ll have heard of the subject (royals, scientists, politicians, celebrities) or the artist (Warhol, Leibovitz). Popular works include a portrait of William Shakespeare, believed to be the only likeness made during his lifetime; the iconic Blur portraits by Julian Opie; and Sam Taylor-Wood’s video-portrait of David Beckham asleep.
VICTORIA & ALBERT MUSEUM – The Museum of Manufactures, as the V&A was known when it opened in 1852, houses the world’s largest collection of decorative arts, but also fine art such as paintings, prints and drawings. Its National Collection of Sculpture, comprising 22,000 objects dating from the 4th century, is especially impressive.
NATIONAL GALLERY – With some 2,300 paintings on display, this is one of the world’s richest art collections, with seminal works from the mid-13th to the early 20th century. Its religious art collection includes Da Vinci’s Virgin of the Rocks, while Michelangelo, Titian, Raphael and El Greco hold court in the West Wing. The North Wing is graced by Rubens, Rembrandt and Caravaggio.
SIR JOHN SOANE’S MUSEUM – This little museum is one of the most atmospheric in London. The heritage-listed building is brimming with curiosities and works of art, including Riva degli Schiavoni, Looking West, by Canaletto and the original A Rake’s Progress – William Hogarth’s set of satirical cartoons of late-18th-century London lowlife.
TRANSPORT – Direct flights are available on Bristish Airways from Singapore and Kuala Lumpur to London Heathrow. The airport is well served by train and bus, and has its own tube station. Public transport in London is expensive but comprehensive: buy an Oyster card from any of the city’s tube stations for cheaper fares. Or hire a public ‘Boris bike’.
WHERE TO STAY – Stylish Citizen M has super-king-sized beds and bright d£cor in its rooms. Its restaurant works on a self-service basis and the bar/lounge is a clever blend of designer and homely style.
Lime Tree Hotel is a family-run hotel in a Georgian townhouse exuding understated elegance, championing British design and has a lovely garden in which to catch the afternoon sun.
Every bedroom is put together like a work of art at The Soho Hotel The location is perfect, close to the West End’s shops, restaurants, theatres and big-hitting galleries.