It’s pretty difficult to sum up all of London’s must-see art into a list. With galleries as diverse as they come, any list is going to have exceptions. Let’s not forget the art that’s not hanging on a wall, the amazing sculptures and street art in London, all of which have impacted and changed the city in various ways across the centuries. Consider this a starting point.
La Loge, Pierre Auguste Renoir
Pierre Auguste Renoir (1841-1919), La Loge (Theatre box), 1874 | The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London
One of the most famous examples of French Impressionism, this small Renoir is one of the highlights of The Courtauld Gallery’s collection on The Strand. La Loge – or The Theatrebox – is part of a series Renoir painted in connection to the theatre and to Parisian high society in the 1870s.
The Ambassadors is one of the most famous Tudor paintings, as well as an exercise in still life and noble portraiture. It’s one of the best examples of anamorphosis, which is the inclusion of a distorted second image that can only be seen from a certain perspective. Stand to one side of the painting and you’ll see a skull on the floor. See it at the National Gallery.
The street artist is perhaps the most famous graffiti guy in the world and in the early 2000s, London was awash with his illegal art. Spotting a new one felt victorious. Sadly a lot have been painted over or defaced, but this one in the beer garden at Shoreditch club Cargo is still pretty pristine and is from his earlier themes.
Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh has a few originals in London. His self-portrait (one of many) post ear lopping off in 1889 was painted not long before he died, after a long bout of depression. He wasn’t well during his life and only really found fame and fortune after he died.
At the end of the Strand, why not stop by the Trafalgar Square Lions. They’ve been here since the end of the 19th century and are the biggest commission for Edwin Landseeer, a famous animal painter of the day. They guard Nelson’s Column and each weighs seven tonnes.
Not all of London’s sculptures are historic and military based. Maggi Hambling’s half bench, half sculpture was erected in 1998 and the expressionist painter imagines a conversation with the famous Irish playwright Oscar Wilde. He is rising out of the bench halfway like you are sitting on his coffin for a chat.
Anish Kapoor’s ArcelorMittal Orbit has divided critics and the public since its installation on the Olympic Park site near Stratford in 2012. 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.
Monet‘s water lilies are some of the most famous flowers in the world. He built a Japanese garden in his estate in France and he painted various different aspects and views of the lilies and the bridge.
Alex Chinneck’s playful take on the industrial area of North Greenwich comes in the form of a 35 metre upside down pylon poking out of the ground. It was commissioned by the London Design Festival and has remained, drawing people to the south east of London like the electricity it was designed to carry.
One of the most influential British painters of all time, David Hockney lives out in LA, which inspired some of his most famous works – set around the house pools of the villas out there. A Bigger Splash captures the absent protagonist and the sun-drenched afternoons of possibilities in California.
Considering how much the famous playwright has shaped London, there are curiously few details about him. At the National Portrait Gallery, you can see the one of the only portraits from his time. It’s thought to date from 1610.
London has its fair share of modern art thanks to the ongoing development of the Tate Modern. See one of Andy Warhol’s most famous pop art prints, the Marilyn Diptychhere. He takes the traditional religious format of the diptych and uses one of the most iconic women of the 20th century, Marilyn Monroe, to comment on fame, death and mortality.