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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.
In 2010/11 work began on the Millbank project; an upgrade of the galleries in the South quadrant in order to increase capacity and improve the conditions for the display of art, as well as transforming the appearance of the main entrance.
The results of the gallery refurbishment and the corresponding rehang were unveiled in May 2013, a key feature of which was the BP Walk Through British Art. Comprised of 500 works presented as a chronological walk-through display, it features 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.
In November, the second phase of the project was unveiled, with a new spiral staircase in the centre of the atrium, a members' cafe and bar in the circular balcony and the reopening of the refurbished Rex Whistler restaurant on the lower floor.
A new Archive Gallery was also opened, for which different contributors select items solely from Tate's archives to create a temporary display.
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' 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.'
Meanwhile, 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.
The BP walk-through also includes several major ArtFunded works, uch as 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.
In 2013, Martin Creed's Work No 227: Lights going on and off was a new addition to the new Millbank galleries, acquired for Tate with the support of the Art Fund.
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.