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What started in 1897 as a single gallery of 65 paintings devoted solely to British art has grown and diversified over the last century, providing an essential supplement to the collections of the National Gallery.
The Tate now comprises nearly 70,000 works, spread across four separate museums: Tate Britain, Tate Modern, Tate Liverpool and Tate St Ives. The Tate Britain's collection retains the original focus, covering British art from 1500 to the present day.
A major rehang at Tate Britain was unveiled in May 2013, which saw 500 works presented in a chronological walk-through display. With works from the 1500s to the present day, the BP Walk Through British Art is spread over 20 galleries and includes works by Francis Bacon, John Constable, George Stubbs, J.M.W. Turner, L.S. Lowry, John Everett Millais, DAvid Hockney, Damien Hirst and Rachel Whiteread.
Major works acquired with Art Fund assistance in Tate Britain's walk-through include Jake and Dinos Chapman's satirical-ethnographic room of wooden carvings The Chapman Family Collection and Susan Hiller's installation Dedicated to the Unknown Artists, which features 14 panels and over 300 postcards.
Housing a national collection, Tate Britain is the world centre for the study and display of British art. Highlights include a Turner collection of more than 300 paintings and thousands of watercolours, with considerable space also dedicated to two artists of the Romantic age, Constable and William Blake.
The national tradition of portraiture is represented in a fine collection of Elizabethan works, as well as those by Gainsborough, Reynolds, and Hogarth 'the father of English painting' whose much-loved Rake's Progress sequence remains a popular draw. The Pre-Raphaelites feature prominently, leading the way to 20th-century galleries that include pieces by Francis Bacon, Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth, and Young British Artists such as Emin and Hirst.
Art Funded works
Millais's Christ in the House of his Parents is an unusual blend of symbolism and faithful realism, Millais based his work on a real carpenter's shop in Oxford Street. Wood, nails and blood all anticipate the crucifixion, bringing a bitter edge to this domestic scene. The painting was not without its detractors, however, with Dickens famously denouncing Millais for rendering Christ as 'a hideous, wry-necked, blubbering, red-haired boy in a night-gown.' Turner's 1842 watercolour The Blue Rigi is one of three paintings by the artist of this same Swiss mountain peak. Each is considered among the finest examples of the medium, distinguished by their delicacy and luminosity.
If you plan to visit both the London Tate galleries, it is well worth taking advantage of the Tate Boat that travels between Tate Britain and Tate Modern every 40 minutes during opening hours, offering panoramic views of the river that has inspired so much British art.