London is lucky enough to call itself the home of some of the world’s most prolific and exciting artists, both from Britain and beyond. It also houses some of the most important, exciting and controversial art from across the globe, spanning centuries and continents.
If you’re an art lover and are heading to the capital for an artistic adventure, we’ve rounded up some of the most famous works of art to see in London to get you started.
A Bar at the Folies-Bergère, Édouard Manet – The Courtauld Gallery
One of the most recognised paintings on the planet can be viewed at your leisure at the Courtauld Gallery in West London.
It’s divided opinion almost as much as the Mona Lisa in terms of the expression of the woman depicted – what is she thinking and feeling, and why does she look both happy and sad at the same time? And what about the man you can see in the refection – is he the cause of her feelings? The piece is methodically full of detail, including a well-hidden trapeze artist – see if you can spot it!
It’s also formed the inspiration for many restaurant, bar and hotel artwork in luxury accommodation like the Montcalm Suites London.
Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear, Vincent Van Gogh – The Courtauld Gallery
There are a lot of famous pieces by this world-renowned artist in London, from the Sunflowers to The Starry Night, and many more. But we’ve spotlighted this one as it’s Van Gogh’s most famous self-portrait. Also housed at the Courtauld Gallery, the green hues which run through this piece seem to amplify van Gogh’s hopelessness.
In this self-portrait, painted not long after the artist’s ear was sliced and he nearly bled to death, he sits staring into space, perhaps speaking, while wrapped up as if he’s outdoors in the midst of a freezing winter. Whether van Gogh slashed himself or it was the result of a fight remains unknown, but Van Gogh’s clear pain and despondency in the piece is widely discussed in the artist community.
William Shakespeare, attributed To John Taylor – National Portrait Gallery
Moving onto another portrait, this one is especially significant as it depicts one of the UK’s most famous people – William Shakespeare. The Chandos portrait (it gets its name from a previous owner) is at home in the National Portrait Gallery, and it is well worth a visit if you’re a fan of both art and the famous Bard.
Interestingly enough though, it’s been widely disputed about whether or not it truly does portray Shakespeare, and the artist behind it, and able to settle the score, remains unknown to this day. Nonetheless, it’s this portrait which has shaped the foundation for numerous portrayals of Shakespeare in the four hundred years since his death.
After a long day of exploring, you’ll be close to some great restaurants near Barbican, too.
The Water-Lily Pond, Claude Monet – National Gallery
Another classic is this Monet masterpiece, painted back in the artist’s garden in Giverny where he resided until his death. It was painted during the primary part of his iconic Water Lily series, which is particularly poignant to fans of Monet as it’s at this point when he began to lose his sight. The Japanese style bridge arches over shimmering greens and pinks, and was loved so much by Monet that he painted it a grand total of 17 times over his life.
This is a Graffiti Area, Banksy – Shoreditch
From the classic stylings of the above artists, to something completely modern and different – Banksy is an anonymous graffiti artist from Bristol, who has caused controversy the world over with his politically charged graffiti artwork.
This controversy has made him maybe the most famous graffiti artist in the world and in the early 2000s, there were lots of his pieces dotted around the city. Spotting a new one felt triumphant. As expected, few survive to this day, at least in their full glory, but this one in the beer garden at Shoreditch club Cargo is still pretty unspoiled and is from his earlier work.
Trafalgar Square Lions, Edwin Landseer – Trafalgar Square
From paintings, portraits and graffiti art to sculpture now. If you’re visiting London, the world-famous Trafalgar Square is no doubt on your list of things to see. And when you do stop by, be sure to take a closer look at the iconic Trafalgar Square Lions.
They’ve been there since the end of the 19th century, and are the largest commission for Edwin Landseer, a famous animal painter back in the day. Landseer had – in fact – already made a series of paintings of lions, but was not a sculptor, but he accepted the commission regardless, and got to work! They protect Nelson’s Column, and they each weigh a whopping seven tonnes.
ArcelorMittal Orbit, Anish Kapoor – Stratford
Anish Kapoor’s ArcelorMittal Orbit was unveiled to divided opinion back in 2012 when it was revealed at the Olympic Park site near Stratford to celebrate the London Olympics.
The 115-metre sculpture twists and turns, it has a bar at the top and as of 2016, it’s also home to one of the longest slides in the world by Belgian artist Carsten Höller. Made up of 35,000 bolts and enough steel to make an incredible 265 double-decker buses, the ArcelorMittal Orbit offers astonishing 20-mile views over Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and the London skyline.
Weeping Woman, Picasso – Tate Modern
The Tate Modern houses some of the most famous pieces of artwork from the 20th and 21st centuries, and if you like ‘slightly’ more traditional modern pieces, this one may be for you.
This is one of the most famous pieces by infamous Cubist artist, Picasso. Modelled on Picasso’s lover, Dora Maar, this colourful but unfortunate scene portrays a distraught woman, her face fragmented up into Cubist shards. The work is an offshoot of Picasso’s iconic work Guernica and is envisioned to convey the sorrow of the Spanish Civil War.
Which famous works of art are you most excited to see during your stay at The Barbican Rooms?