Galleries for groups

There is a diverse and inspiring range of art on display in Britain. Jane Sarluis takes a whistle-stop tour of some of the most popular galleries, all of which welcome group visits.

Inside Dulwich Picture Gallery. © Dulwich Picture Gallery

Inside Dulwich Picture Gallery. © Dulwich Picture Gallery

A rich, historical trail of fine and applied arts lines the walls of Britain’s galleries. As well as the better known national institutions, there are hundreds of small, regional galleries showing collections which have Designated status, considered of national and international importance.
If you are looking for a group visit with a combination of structure and freedom, a gallery is a perfect place to start. There are opportunities to peruse priceless, world-class paintings at leisure, with the accompaniment of an audio-guide, or to take a tour with a skilled educator. Many galleries offer free entry to their permanent collections, charging a fee for special exhibitions, although these are often discounted for groups. All the galleries listed here have restaurants and most request that large groups book in advance.

London

London is the hub of Britain’s fine art collection, telling a comprehensive story of our national art history. Starting with the National Gallery, visitors can enjoy Britain’s national public collection of western painting from the 13th to 20th centuries. Entry to the main galleries is free and there are complimentary guided highlight tours of these collections, or for a charge you can book a tailor-made tour for groups of 10 to 25 people in advance. There are fascinating stories behind some of the world’s most famous paintings, from Botticelli’s ‘Venus and Mars’ to Van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers’.

Taking a break at the National Gallery. © Iain Crockart

Taking a break at the National Gallery. © Iain Crockart

The Royal Academy of Arts is a private institution founded in 1768 by a group of prominent artists and architects. It provides a venue for artists to display and sell their work to the public, as well as one for major exhibitions of international interest. From 25th September to 12th December, ‘Treasures from Budapest: European Masterpieces from Leonardo to Schiele’ will showcase one of the finest collections of art from central Europe. There is also an annual Summer Exhibition with works for sale. Groups of 10 or more who book in advance get a 20% discount. There are also free gallery talks to which groups can just turn up.
Dulwich Picture Gallery is a hidden gem in a leafy south London suburb. There is an entry fee, but discounts apply to groups of 10 or more and there are guided tours for groups of 10 to 30 at set times from Tuesday to Friday. The permanent collection includes portraits by Reynolds and Gainsborough.
Alternatively, groups can put a face to the name at London’s National Portrait Gallery, where more than 2,000 portraits of famous British personalities are on display. Whether it is the Tudor dynasty, Princess Diana or Leonard Cohen who interests you, there is a face to enchant everyone here. Groups of 10 to 30 should pre-book for a discount, with or without a tour. There is a group discount for ‘Camille Silvy: Photographer of Modern Life 1834-1910’ until 24th October; Silvy was a pioneer of early photography and one of the greatest French photographers.
Meanwhile, the Courtauld Gallery in London’s Somerset House is one of the finest small art galleries in the world, renowned for its collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works. Groups of 10 to 25 qualify for a discount, can hire a guide, and should pre-book.
For a contemporary Italian experience in a beautiful Georgian townhouse in London, try the little-known but much admired Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art. It holds one of the finest collections of early 20th century Italian art in the world. Groups should book in advance and, for an extra charge – and a minimum group size of 20 – guided tours can be arranged.

The entrance to the National  Portrait Gallery. © National Portrait Gallery, London

The entrance to the National Portrait Gallery. © National Portrait Gallery, London

For something a little different, but perhaps not for the faint-hearted, the Wellcome Collection in London is free and explores the connection between medicine, life and art in the past, present and future. The permanent exhibition includes the Victorian artefacts of founder Henry Wellcome, which centre on the human body.
The Tate group consists of four galleries across the country and, between them, they hold the national collection of British art from 1500 to the present day, and international modern art. At Tate Britain in London, there is the largest collection of Turners in the world. For groups of fewer than 10, there are free tours of the permanent collection and for larger groups, self-led visits are free for up to 60 people. Discounts for special exhibitions are available for groups of 10 or more Monday to Friday and there is an exhibition package for groups of 20 or more, which includes a buffet lunch. Private tours can be tailor-made for groups of 15 or more. A great day out for groups is the London Tate to Tate tour – Tate Britain in the morning, a trip along the river on a boat and to Tate Modern in the afternoon. Tours here follow a similar format to Tate Britain but include an evening tour and dinner package too. The gallery’s display is of modern art dating from 1900, including abstract, expressive and experimental art and sculpture.
Up at Tate Liverpool there is free entry to the main collection of international modern and contemporary art. There is a fee for group tours of either the permanent collection or special exhibition, which should be booked in advance for a minimum of 10 people, maximum 100. From 17th December until 13th March 2011, the major exhibition is ‘Nam June Paik’, video artist, performer and composer who is said to have paved the way for the MTV generation.
The last of the Tate family is Tate St Ives in Cornwall, displaying international modern and contemporary art (an admission charge applies here). You can take a self-directed tour, book a tour guide or enrol on a practical artist-led workshop. Groups of 10 or more should book in advance for a discount, and entry can be combined with the nearby Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden for a further reduction.

Inside Tate St Ives, Cornwall. © Tate St Ives/Photo Bob Berry

Inside Tate St Ives, Cornwall. © Tate St Ives/Photo Bob Berry

Outside London

First opened in 1904, Watts Gallery near Guildford is devoted to the art of G.F. Watts, sculptor, landscape painter and symbolist. The gallery closed for an £11 million restoration in October 2008 and it is set to re-open in spring next year. On re-opening, the permanent exhibition will be complemented with a collection of Watt’s masterpieces on loan from the Tate and an exhibition on the significance of his most famous work – ‘Hope’. Groups will receive discounted admission.
In the east of England, The Fitzwilliam Museum is part of Cambridge University. It is free to enter the museum and its exhibitions, but there are charges for tours, which are provided by Blue Badge tourist guides. Groups of more than 10 (maximum 30) should book in advance; out of hours entry can also be arranged. This year there are displays of contemporary sea paintings by Maggi Hambling, glass engraving, Japanese woodcuts and a 1,000-year-old Persian manuscript.
Meanwhile, Leeds Art Gallery is home to a world-class collection of 20th century British art. It has a large display of sculpture including Henry Moore, Rodin and Barbara Hepworth, and a constantly evolving collection of work by living artists. Entry is free and a complimentary introduction to the gallery can be booked in advance for groups.
The free-entry Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester is home to some of Britain’s finest collections of art and design, including modern and historic fine art, prints, textiles and a rare collection of wallpapers. Until summer 2011 there is an exhibition called ‘Intuition’, which showcases work by artists outside the mainstream, who have not received any formal art training. The gallery is part of Manchester University.
Also in the city, Manchester Art Gallery and the Gallery of Costume, in the same complex, are home to 25,000 pieces of fine art, decorative art and costume. The collection is best known for its world-famous Pre-Raphaelite paintings. There are also ceramics, glass, furniture, even dolls houses on show, and costume from 1600 to the current day. Entry is free, and there are free audio-tours and highlights tour at weekends.
Renowned for bringing some of the biggest art names to the north east, the Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle-upon-Tyne includes historic, modern and contemporary fine art and glass, pottery and silver. Entry is free along with an introductory talk or groups can book a full guided tour for a small charge for up to 10 people at a time.