Sunday, 19 October 2008

The Tate Britain

On a sort of grey and cold Saturday in mid-October, we went to the Tate Britain to fill an afternoon.  My husband had never been, and I'd only been once or twice, so it's definitely one of London's museums that we just don't go to as often, for whatever reason.  This visit reminded me that this was dumb, because the Tate Britain is actually super-fantastic.

Tube stop: Pimlico (Victoria line), then follow the signs to the museum
Entrance: Free, dummy. It's in London.
Opening Hours: 10-6 daily, open til 10pm on the first Friday of the month.
Collections: British art, almost exclusively, from about 1500-present.  Unmatched collection of Turner paintings.
Good to know: There is a ferry that goes between the Tate Britain and the Tate Modern (on the southbank of the Thames), so if you feel like making a day out of museums, you can link these two with a quick boat trip (fun for the kids or kids at heart).  The boat run every 40 mins during museum opening times, and is 3.35 if you have a travelcard.  Admittedly, it's not exactly a deal.  

You can see most of the "historic" collections and the Turner paintings in less than 3 hours without rushing at all.  Here are the "need to know" highlights:
  • Newly acquired Rubens oil sketch with a full mini-exhibition of the history of the piece and its acquisition.  Really nicely displayed, and when we were there, it was totally empty so we got up close to it.
  • Exceptional collection of John Constable paintings (he's famous for his idyllic pastoral landscapes of Britain, c. 1800).  They don't have many (or perhaps any?) of his famous large-format "Six Footer" canvases, but they do have many lovely complete paintings and sketches.  These are in rooms 7, 9 and 11.
  • Very nice collection of pre-Raphaelite paintings.  If you aren't familiar with these, see my post about the the pre-Raphaelite art at the Tate Britain. Bright colors are often used and these paintings really jump off the canvas.  Look for works by Ford Maddox Brown, Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones, John Everett Millais, William Homan Hunt, and Gabriel Michael Rossetti.  The museum also has a great collection of William Blake paintings and prints, which draw on similar themes and are really good 'eye candy.' Right now, there is a special exhibit of his work and that of Cecil Collins. 
  • I was also drawn to the Samuel Palmer romantic landscapes on this visit.  Look for them in room 12. 
  • Throughout the museum, but especially in the "Turner" galleries, you can see an unparalleled collection of Turner's oil and watercolor paintings, and this museum offers the perfect opportunity to see the whole trajectory of his work and life.
We had a great afternoon at the Tate Britain.  My husband said that one of the things he loved about the museum was that they had a collection of works that were not necessarily by the typical "big name" artists.  This allowed you to go through the galleries without feeling like you were on a hunt for the da Vinci.  Instead, you were drawn to whatever attracted you aesthetically.  I think this is really true at the Tate Britain, and it's refreshing to visit a museum in this way, when so often we are preoccupied by making sure we've seen all of the "great works."  So go to the Tate Britain and find yourself standing in awe in front of a painting by an artist you've never heard of before.

I should also add that at the moment, there are several nice special exhibits.  They have Francis Bacon paintings in an exhibit that has been widely lauded and praised (we passed on this when we went).  Also, they have the Turner Prize art on exhibit there now.  

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