The UK has produced many of the most famous artists of the 19th and 20th centuries, from Turner to Hockney, and remains a place that is both fascinated with art and nurturing of artists.
For an artistic tour of the UK, a good place to drive in Britain is to the far West of England, in what could be called the nation of Cornwall. The most southerly point of Britain, Cornwall has some of the best light for artists and this, along with the gentle lifestyle and generous populace, has drawn artists for well over 150 years. The St. Ives School is perhaps the best known group, including the sculptor Barbara Hepworth, the painters Peter Lanyon, Alfred Wallace and Ben Nicholson. Their works capture something of the clear light and sea air of Cornwall and have made it a famous and attractive place of artistic homage.
Better known for their massed choirs and love of singing, the Welsh have produced many fine artists over the years. Galleries such as the Ffin y Parc and Oriel Tegfryn contain art from Wales’s past and present. The lush valleys and rugged coast have provided inspiration and solace to many artists over the years, as has the strong character of the Welsh themselves. Augustus John and Christopher Williams are amongst the better known Welsh artists to have made names for themselves, but most towns in Wales have an art gallery selling art from local artists, which shouldn’t be missed. It is a very creative place and it is understandable that it would draw artists.
The Scots punch above their weight when it comes to great artists and musicians, with Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Cosmo Alexander, Andrew Bell, Leslie Hunter and Douglas Gordon spanning the ages and pushing the boundaries of art, usually anywhere but Scotland. Many Scots left Scotland during the 18th and 19th centuries, seeking fame and fortune, or simply fleeing the Highland clearances, and many found fame as artists elsewhere.
There are many fine galleries in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen, many of them free to enter and containing some of the world’s finest collections. A trip to Southern Scotland can’t be without a trip to the galleries and auction houses of Edinburgh, while a trip further north to the isles will put the traveller into the company of many modern artists from around the world, attracted by the shifting light and ever-changing conditions of the far north.
Northern Ireland has put out its fair share of artists through the years, and while the spoken and written word might be the more famous exports from Northern Ireland, the country is liberally endowed with great galleries and artists groups. Belfast has a number of world-class galleries, including the Mac and the Ulster Museum Art Collection. Like the rest of the UK, Northern Ireland has a thriving art scene and a distinctive arts culture. Not to be missed are the unforgettable murals in Ulster, the landscape painting of the north and the coastal scenes so dramatically portrayed in much Northern Irish art.
Constable, Turner, Holbein, Stubbs, Gainsborough, Lowry, Morris, Epstein, Gill, Moore, Gormley, Emin, Banksy. Revolutionary English artists through the last 300 years. Largely due to the wealth generated by the industrial revolution, empire and slave trade, patronage of the arts has always been strong in England and has produced some of the greatest artists in history.
London is indisputably the centre of art in England, if not the UK. The free galleries, the vast wealth, the exciting and irrepressible atmosphere of London make it an amazing place to make and experience art. A thriving graffiti scene, largely spurred on by the popularity of Banksy, can make a wander around the streets of London an artistic journey. From graffitified walls to the crisp lines and confounding textures of the Tate, London offers art for any taste.
The Yorkshire Sculpture park draws many thousands of visitors, Liverpool and Newcastle have fine galleries, Birmingham is worth exploring all on its own for art, Leeds is thriving and expanding, drawing in talent from around the globe, as with the rest of the UK. The UK has an uncommonly large number of free galleries, attracting millions each year.
Small galleries pepper England, the English love to make and buy art, continuing with their distinctive and evolutionary artistic heritage that has led England to be one of the best places on Earth to find, buy or just enjoy art.