A guide to Britain’s Galleries

Carrie Drage takes a closer look at what Britain’s art galleries have to offer visiting groups over the coming year.

The entrance to the National Portrait Gallery.

The entrance to the National Portrait Gallery.

There are hundreds of magnificent public art collections across the UK that are enjoyed by millions of people every year. Although London is home to many of the larger national institutions, Britain also has a number of smaller, regional venues that hold art collections of national and cultural significance. For a nominal fee, most galleries offer guided tours of the collections, or short talks relating to specific pieces; for more on how to get the best out of a group visit with a guided tour, read our feature Stepping behind the scenes.

LONDON

Some of the world’s greatest art galleries are concentrated in London and virtually all of them offer free admission. Here are a selection.

Located at Trafalgar Square, The National Gallery houses more than 2,000 Western European paintings, dating from the Middle Ages to the early 20th century, including works by Titian, Constable, Van Gogh and Picasso. From 9th November, ‘Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan’ will go on show at the gallery, bringing together international loans never-before-seen in the UK. Admission is free, although there is a charge for temporary exhibitions in the Sainsbury Wing. Groups can organise a tailor-made tour around the collection or special illustrated talks on the latest exhibition.

Nearby, the National Portrait Gallery holds the most extensive collection of portraits in the world, with over 1,000 on display across three floors, from Elizabeth I to David Beckham. Artists featured range from Holbein to Hockney, and the collection includes work across all media, from painting and sculpture to photography and video. Entry is free; however, there is a charge for temporary exhibitions, with groups of 10 or more offered a concessionary rate. Forthcoming exhibitions include ‘The First Actresses: Nell Gwynn to Sara Siddons’, on display from 20th October to 8th January 2012, looking at the ways in which actresses used portraiture to enhance their reputations, deflect scandal and increase their popularity and professional status.

An Edgar Degas painting from the upcoming exhibition, ‘Degas and the Ballet: Picturing Movement’, at the Royal Academy of Arts.

An Edgar Degas painting from the upcoming exhibition, ‘Degas and the Ballet: Picturing Movement’, at the Royal Academy of Arts.

Meanwhile, the Royal Academy of Arts is based at Burlington House and was founded by George III in 1768, becoming the first institution in Britain solely devoted to the promotion of the visual arts. Its permanent collection comprises British paintings and sculpture from the 18th to 20th centuries, with paintings by Royal Academicians such as Reynolds, JMW Turner, Sir Stanley Spencer and David Hockney, together with donated works that include one of only four sculptures by Michelangelo outside Italy. The gallery also holds an annual selling exhibition and a variety of temporary exhibitions. Coming up, ‘Degas and the Ballet: Picturing Movement’ (17th September – 11th December) will trace the development of Edgar Degas’ ballet imagery throughout his career. Groups of 10 or more receive a concessionary rate on exhibition tickets and can arrange private guided tours and slide talks.

Away from the centre of London, Dulwich Picture Gallery houses one of the country’s finest collections of Old Masters, especially rich in French, Italian and Spanish Baroque paintings and British portraits from Tudor times to the 19th century. 2011 is the gallery’s bicentenary and throughout the year, it will be displaying a different loan masterpiece each month, including pieces by Van Gogh, Hockney, Ingres and Domenichino. Guided tours are available for groups.

Enjoying a talk at the Dulwich Picture Gallery

Enjoying a talk at the Dulwich Picture Gallery

Also in the capital, the Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace is a space dedicated to changing exhibitions of items from the Royal Collection. ‘Leonardo da Vinci: Anatomy’ will go on display here from 4th May 2012, featuring notes and drawings from da Vinci’s studies of the human body. Groups receive discounted admission, and private tours and talks can also be arranged.

REGIONAL VENUES

The rest of the UK also has plenty to boast about, with several new regional galleries opening in recent years, in impressive buildings designed by internationally famous architects.

Located near Stratford-upon-Avon, Compton Verney offers the opportunity to view art in the setting of a Grade I listed mansion remodelled by Robert Adam and located in 120 acres of ‘Capability’ Brown landscaped parkland. The gallery is home to six fine and decorative art collections from around the world, including the largest collection of British folk art in the country and one of the best collections of Chinese bronzes in Europe. In addition, there is a changing programme of exhibitions that includes ‘Quentin Blake: As Large As Life’ (15th October – 11th December), featuring illustrations by the former children’s laureate, and ‘Remember, Remember: A History of Fireworks in Britain’ (15th October – 11th December), exploring Britain’s Bonfire Night celebrations. Groups of 15 or more receive discounted admission, a free introductory talk, meal deals and picnic bags, and free admission for the group organiser. A range of collection and exhibition tours are also available at an additional £3 per person, including a ‘Collection Highlights Tour’ focusing on specific objects rom each of the six permanent collections.

A group on a tour of Compton Verney.

A group on a tour of Compton Verney.

Meanwhile, in Cornwall, Tate St Ives is one of four galleries that form part of the Tate group; the others being Tate Modern and Tate Britain, both in London, and Tate Liverpool. The gallery overlooks Porthmeor beach and welcomes over 200,000 visitors a year. Although it does not have a permanent collection, it presents a lively and varied international exhibition programme of historic and contemporary art, with forthcoming exhibitions that include the ‘Indiscipline of Painting’ (8th October – 3rd January 2012), showcasing abstract pieces by Andy Warhol and Bridget Riley among others. Tate St Ives also manages the nearby Barbara Hepworth Museum & Scuplture Garden, which gives a remarkable insight into one of the 20th century’s most important sculptors. Hepworth created many of her most famous works here and sculptures in bronze, stone and wood are on display in the subtropical garden, with paintings, drawings and archive material in the museum. A concessionary group rate is offered for 10 or more people to Tate St Ives and the Barbara Hepworth Museum & Sculpture Garden. Groups can also book a variety of tailor-made activities including 90-minute ‘Sketchbook Tours’.

A view of Tate St Ives.

A view of Tate St Ives.

Opened in May this year, the Hepworth Wakefield, in West Yorkshire, was designed by David Chipperfield Architects and is formed of 10 irregularly-sized trapezoidal blocks. Inside, its 10 galleries showcase major works by the Wakefieldborn sculptor and her contemporary, Henry Moore, born in nearby Castleford. The collection also holds key works by other leading British artists including Ben Nicholson, Jacob Epstein, John Piper and L.S. Lowry. Another important attraction for visitors is the rarely-seen Gott Collection, comprising 1,200 works on paper from the 18th and 19th centuries depicting over 200 Yorkshire views and landmarks. ‘Hot Touch’, presenting the work of Irish sculptor, Eva Rothschild, is the first in an on-going programme of major temporary exhibitions here. Groups receive a complimentary coach welcome and introduction to the gallery when booking one of three exclusive guided tours. These include a free 20-minute ‘Highlights Tour’, available on Wednesdays and at weekends.

Designed by the same team of awardwinning architects, the £17.5 million Turner Contemporary, in Margate,opened in April on the spot where the painter, JMW Turner, used to stay when he visited the town. With its eye-catching opaque glass façade, the gallery forms part of the resort’s elaborate regeneration scheme, and boasts a changing exhibition programme, with works by Turner always on display for visitors to enjoy. The major exhibition, ‘Nothing in the World But Youth’, will go on display from 17th September to 8th January 2012, exploring how youth experience has been reflected in art, culture and the media since the late 19th century to the present day. Admission is free and hour-long tours of the gallery are available for groups.

The striking new Turner Contemporary

The striking new Turner Contemporary

Finally, in Scotland, The Queen’s Gallery at the Palace of Holyroodhouse is managed by the Royal Collection and presents a programme of changing exhibitions. ‘The Northern Renaissance: Dürer to Holbein’ (until 15th January 2012) is currently on display here, and examples by the great masters Hans Memling, Quinten Massys and Albrecht Dürer are among over 100 paintings, drawings, prints, manuscripts, miniatures and sculptures on show. To celebrate Her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012, the Palace will present ‘Royal Treasures: A Diamond Jubilee Celebration’ (16th March – 16th September 2012), bringing together over 100 works from the Royal Collection, including paintings by Rembrandt, Canaletto and Monet, drawings by Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael and Holbein, and Imperial easter eggs by Fabergé. Admission is discounted for groups of 15 or more and an audio guide is inclusive in the price. A wide range of exclusive tours are also available for groups including private evening viewings.