London is rightly famous for having some of the best art galleries in the world. So we've put together a list of some of the best London art galleries that are either less well known than the likes of TATE Modern and the National Gallery, have an unusual setting, or are places you might have heard of but never thought to visit. Read on to discover our decadent dozen.
Early 20th Century Italian. Famous for its "Futurism" paintings.
Set in a beautiful Grade II listed Georgian building, you'll find six galleries on three floors with more than 120 paintings, drawings, watercolours, prints and sculptures. If you know your Italian art, you'll recognise some of the artists' works on show: Giacomo Balla, Umberto Boccioni and Ardengo Soffici to name a few. Even if you don't, you'll like the incredible library, with more than 2,000 books on 20th century Italian art to help you learn more. Like every art gallery worth its salt, it has a fine shop as well as a café (serving espresso and lattes, naturally) to hang out in afterwards. American collector, Eric Estorick (1913-1993), who generously donated the works to the museum which takes his name, sold paintings to many Hollywood stars including Lauren Bacall and Burt Lancaster, and even had a stint arranging art exhibitions for Marks and Spencers in the early 1950s
“One of the finest collections of early 20th century Italian art anywhere in the world" - Sir Nicholas Serota, Director of Tate
Old masters including Canaletto, Rembrandt and Gainsborough. However, they also have temporary exhibitions featuring new and emerging artists.
The world’s first purpose built public art gallery is still blazing a trail more than 200 years after first opening its doors. Originally commissioned for a king, instead the collection was handed over to an independent charity by founders Noel Desenfans and Sir Francis Bourgeois, so that it could be enjoyed by the public. Set in perfectly landscaped grounds, this gallery survived being bombed during WWII and has undergone frequent renovations since then.
Strange but true: Sir John Soane’s design for the top of the mausoleum at the gallery is said to have inspired Giles Gilbert Scott’s iconic red telephone box box. They have a classic phone box in the grounds so you can judge for yourself.
Contemporary visual art and education. Exhibitions have included influential installation British artist Shelagh Wakely and residencies so you can see works in progress.
The first thing you should know about this gallery is that, despite its name, it isn't really in Camden. In fact, the former Victorian Library is on the corner of Arkwright Road and Finchley Road. This space has a real focus on involving the local community, with the aim of inspiring and educating people about art. With artist-led courses, talks and other events (and a specific programme for children), this gallery has gained a hard-won international reputation. The cafe is well worth a visit too, as is the outdoor area during the warmer months. Each Wednesday while exhibitions are on, it also hosts The Playlist (7pm till 10pm) where you'll hear music specially chosen by artists. Website and TwitterGeneral admission: FREEOpening Hours: Tues-Sun: 10am to 6pm, Wed: 10am to 9pm (Café open until 10pm with The Playlist)Getting there: Arkwright Road, London, NW3 6DGNearest Tube: Finchley Road & Frognal (overground) Finchley Road (tube)
Contemporary art exhibitions and live art events. The Nina Stewart Artist Residency sees recent graduates take over the gallery to showcase their new work.
This free gallery, which is run by the SLG charity, includes works by Modern British artists along with a collection of 20th Century prints works relating to the local area. Founded in 1891 as a "gallery for the people of south London open to the public free, and on Sundays", the local community still plays a big part here. A recent project saw art being taken out to the surrounding area in the form of a pop up shop on a neighbouring estate. The gallery is almost a work of art itself. It combines the original Victorian Grade II listed building (made from Portland stone and hand-made pressed bricks) with an award-winning extension of light-filled rooms.
London-themed and Victorian art, particularly pre-Raphaelite.
No other London art gallery has the ruins of a Roman Amphitheatre in the basement, but despite its lively history, the Guildhall Gallery is quite often appreciated for being a peaceful haven in the middle of the City. The main collection, amassed by the City of London Corporation over many years, is quite classically Victorian, but there are also more modern pieces and regular cutting-edge exhibitions. The paintings show some quite vivid recreations of London events, like Tower Bridge opening and the Lord Mayor’s Show, and you get the added bonus of seeing the atmospheric amphitheatre, too.
Strange but true: One of the UK’s largest paintings, The Defeat of the Floating Batteries at Gibraltar, was so big (458 square feet) the gallery actually had to be designed to fit it in.
Website and TwitterGeneral admission: FREE - For permanent collection and Roman Amphitheatre: Entrance fees may be charged for selected exhibitionsOpening Hours: Mon-Sat: 10am to 5pm, Sun: noon to 4pmGetting there: Guildhall Yard (off Gresham Street), London, EC2V 5AENearest Tube: Bank or St Paul's
An unusual space hosting exhibitions, installations and performance - expect the unexpected.
In a former life. this gallery was (and technically still is) a crypt and an air raid shelter. There are still more than 500 bodies buried in the crypt (the last was 71-year-old Harry Pearce on October 27th 1854), which give it a very unique atmosphere, heavy on the architecture. The Crypt itself retains all the original features, and as a result it's often used as the backdrop to a huge range of exhibitions and shows - there's no agenda here, so check the website to see what's on.
Website and TwitterGeneral admission: Free admission to all exhibitions unless otherwise stated. It doesn't have credit card facilities, so if there is a charge, make sure you have a bit of change (prices are always affordable)Opening Hours: Vary per exhibition - see website for timesGetting there: St Pancras Church, Euston Road, London, NW1 2BANearest Tube: Euston or Euston Square
Collections of beautiful, vivid photographs.
Tucked away behind Oxford Street, this was the first gallery in the world dedicated solely to photography (it opened in 1971), and it continues to be the leading venue for photography in the UK. The annual programme of solo and group exhibitions, from both new and established international photographers, is second to none. You can also buy works from over 35 internationally acclaimed photographers in their dedicated Print Sale Gallery. If you're looking for rare or unusual photography publications you'll find them in the shop, and there's also a cafe onsite too if you need a quick drink.
Contemporary. Past influential British artists have included Tracey Emin, Damien Hirst and Gilbert and George.
These commercial galleries in London appeal to a much broader audience than just art collectors, and the exhibitions aim to be accessible to all. The original concept was to create an intimate space where an artist could present a single important or a body of work within a focused environment, and this has carried on at all their locations. In fact, the White Cube's other collections in São Paulo and Hong Kong, together with the London spaces, have become some of the most influential galleries of the last two decades. The newest and largest is White Cube Bermondsey (2011) which has three major exhibition spaces as well as private viewing rooms, office space, a warehouse, an auditorium and a bookshop.
General admission: Exhibitions are free to all, and they also offer free film screenings, talks, as well as an education programme in association with IESAOpening Hours: Tues-Sat: 10am to 6pm: Bermondsey also open Sun: 12pm to 6pmGetting there: White Cube Bermondsey, 144 – 152 Bermondsey Street, London, SE1 3TQ and White Cube Mason's Yard, 25 – 26 Mason's Yard, London, SW1Y 6BUNearest Tube: Bermondsey or Piccadilly Circus for Mason's Yard
Renowned for its eighteenth-century French paintings, as well as work by Rubens and Rembrandt. Unusually, it's also home to an armoury.
There are 25 galleries packed into this townhouse, all of them full of art left to the nation by the widow of Sir Richard Wallace in 1897. In September 2014, The Great Gallery, home to one of the finest collections of Old Master paintings in the world, is reopening following a major two-year refurbishment. It features paintings like Hals’ iconic "The Laughing Cavalier", now showcased with natural light. The gallery might look very traditional, but it's far from stuffy and has brought itself bang up to date with accessible exhibits.
The first new public gallery to be built in London for more than 40 years opened to critical acclaim in 2007. Home to Iniva (Institute of International Visual Arts) and Autograph ABP’s artistic programmes, it celebrates cultural diversity so expect local and global visual art. The concept is to provide a hub for knowledge - which is why it's also home to the Stuart Hall Library, where you'll find catalogues and monographs along with a photographic archive.
Apparently award-winning architect, David Adjaye OBE, took inspiration from a Sowei mask from Sierra Leone when designing the look of the building.
Website and TwitterGeneral admission: FREEOpening Hours: Tues/Wed/Fri: 11am to 6pm,Thur: 11am to 9pm, Sat 12pm to 6pm, Closed Sun, Mon & Bank HolidaysGetting there: Rivington Place, London, EC2A 3BANearest Tube: Shoreditch High Street or Old Street
Hidden in the middle of Battersea Park is The Pump House Gallery. Its Pride and Prejudice-like location is misleading, as this restored four story Grade I listed Victorian tower is home to a contemporary art gallery, which boasts diversity in its art programmes and engagement with communities and art audiences alike. The Pump House, at its lakeside location, became a permanent gallery in 1999 and showcases the work of emerging, national and international artists.
"We encourage challenging and thought provoking conversations through the opening out of curatorial processes." Ned McConnell - Curator
Contemporary, but literally anything goes. You can see art and sculpture installations, or join in with their supper clubs and other pop-up events.
Set in an old Edwardian police station, this kind of DIY arts centre, home to 45 artist studios. The low-fi artist-run space is incredibly popular with students shows, but it is the location that gives it that dynamic twist. From the old fingerprint room to the holding cells; each feature is used to its most atmospheric effect. The old soundproof audio interview room is cunningly used as a 24-hour online radio station.
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