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British tourists abroad often bring glowing reports back of the incredible Art Galleries they have seen in foreign cities. But Britain has just as much to offer. Not just London but virtually every city and major town has an art gallery, all with interesting things to view and some with rare or intriguing contents. Although Britain has not produced a huge number of major artists, we have enough home-grown material to suffice – and generations of collectors have created wonderful displays which are now available for us all to enjoy.

Obviously, London is the starting point, as it has the largest selection of galleries. Within the city there are 7 major galleries and as many smaller ones. Many have free entry or only charge a small fee. [NB there is the occasional heavy charge so do check just in case] 

The National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery (both in Trafalgar Square) provide a fascinating (free) view of art throughout history. The Tate Galleries (free) tend more towards the modern and will often feature a single artist or genre for an exhibition; for example a recent one was on the Impressionists. 

Tate Modern, housed in a redundant power station, is an amazing building and provides a real insight into modern trends in art and sculpture. The building is well worth a visit and the exhibits will certainly provoke – whether you like them or not.  

Popular UK Art Galleries

Kelvingrove Art Gallery
Leeds Art Gallery 
Manchester Art Gallery
The Walker Art Gallery
The Ulster Museum
The National Gallery
The Burrell Collection
The Lowry

The many smaller galleries often feature a specific subject or collection. An unusual angle is found at Greenwich, where there is the National Gallery of Naval Art. Even for non-nautical visitors, this is a surprisingly interesting collection. 

Incredible art galleries can be found in some unlikely places. St. Ives in Cornwall is one such. The Tate chose a site on the outskirts of the fishing village for its regional gallery, Tate St. Ives. This was not because of the beautiful location (although it is) but because of the artistic history in the village.  

St. Ives was the home and now houses some of the work of Barbara Hepworth, probably the most original and dynamic modernist sculptor. Her near neighbour was Bernard Leach, the potter, whose workshop has also been preserved. In fact a trip to St. Ives is a real journey through some of the best in twentieth century art. 

Sculpture such as Barbara Hepworth’s was often intended to be part of the landscape. So some art galleries are outdoors. One of the best is the Yorkshire Sculpture Park near Wakefield. The vast acreage is the setting for a collection of permanent and temporary pieces. There are also 4 indoor galleries with a varying display, often featuring a single artist. All of this is free. 

Whichever city you find yourself in, it is worthwhile checking out the local galleries, there are some gems. Try the Chinese Art Centre in Manchester – all things oriental and fantastically beautiful. 

Leave the beach at Blackpool and go to the Grundy Art Gallery, where there is a rare chance to see the work of Jacob Epstein. The exhibition shows the connection between the artist and the city, which was a rare supporter of his early work. 

Look at women artists in Liverpool’s Walker Gallery, the best of young modern sculptors in the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds, surrealism at Chichester, the work of Antony Gormley in Bexhill-on-sea or early Lowry in Kendal, Cumbria.  

Wherever you find yourself, soak up the massive choice of art available to us all in the local art galleries of Britain. 


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