Autumn blockbusters

  • 20 August 2014

From hazy romantic landscapes to rare Chinese treasures, awe-inspiring portraits to cutting-edge experimental art – we pick the top shows to see this season.

1. Late Turner: Painting Set Free, Tate Britain, 10 September – 25 January 2015 and Constable: The Making of a Master, V&A, 20 September – 11 January 2015 

Both 50% off with National Art Pass

British landscape stalwarts take centre stage this autumn, as two separate exhibitions at the V&A and Tate Britain reflect on the careers of John Constable and JMW Turner respectively. Born just a year apart, their Romantic visions of country scenes brought them varying degrees of success in their lifetimes. While Tate Britain explores Turner's celebrated late career in which he embarked on radical experimentations with technique, process and material, the V&A delves into the story behind Constable's master paintings – many of which only received rightful recognition after his death. 

Each show includes several of the most iconic depictions of the British landscape in existence – notably Turner's sublime vision of Norham Castle at sunrise, and Constable's equally delightful Hay Wain and Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows.

If you'd like to be in with a chance of winning tickets to one of these incredible exhibitions, enter our Turner and Constable competition (closes 31 August 2014).

2. Ming: 50 years that changed China, British Museum,18 September – 5 January 2015

50% off with National Art Pass

Although this period in the Ming dynasty has previously received little attention in Europe, the years 1400–1450 were a time of extraordinary change. Beijing became the capital city, power was centralised, and the nation's borders were fixed as they are today. On display are a series of objects that reveal the glory, wealth and creativity of this dramatic era – including paintings, porcelains, weapons and costume.

Key items represent the four emperors that ruled China at this time: the sword of the Yongle Emperor ('the warrior'), the handwriting of the Hongxi emperor ('the bureaucrat'), the paintings of the Xuande emperor ('the aesthete') and the portraits of the regents who ruled while the Zhengtong emperor was a boy. There are also examples of costumes, gold, jewellery and furniture that once belonged to the princes.

3. Sigmar Polke: Alibis, Tate Modern, 9 October – 8 February 2015

50% off with National Art Pass

During his career Sigmar Polke worked across style, medium and material; unafraid to change direction or reinvent his methods. This is the first exhibition to pay homage to the full breadth of his artistic exploration, encompassing works made from meteorite dust, bubble wrap, soot, potatoes and dye extracted from boiled snails. 

One of the co-founders of Capitalist Realism – an anti-style of art – his work is rich with political and social commentary. Included here are manipulated photographic compositions he shot during his travels across Afghanistan, Brazil, France, Pakistan and North America, and paintings he created while high on hallucinogenic substances – many of which feature mushrooms.

4. Rembrandt: The Late Works, National Gallery, 15 October – 18 January 2015

50% off with National Art Pass

Facing bankruptcy and devastated by the death of his wife and three of his children, Rembrandt's final years were marred by tragedy and hardship. Yet it was during this period that the painter's work was at its most expressive and profound. Rembrandt consciously pursued a new artistic style in his late career – manipulating printing and painting techniques, and devising new and original interpretations of traditional subjects.

Spanning from the 1650s to his death in 1669, the display features approximately 40 paintings, 20 drawings and 30 prints loaned from across international collections. Highlights include a series of late self portraits that reveal his exceptional honesty in recording his own features as he aged, and the Jewish Bride: a portrait that famously so enamoured 20th-century painter Vincent van Gogh that he claimed: ‘I should be happy to give 10 years of my life if I could go on sitting here in front of this picture for a fortnight, with only a crust of dry bread for food’.

5. Sherlock Holmes: The Man Who Never Lived And Will Never Die, Museum of London, 17 October – 12 April 2015

50% off with National Art Pass

While the Sherlock phenomenon may be at fever pitch, the last London exhibition centred around the detective was in 1951 at the Festival of Britain. This timely show focuses specifically on Holmes's connection with the capital. Conan Doyle lived and wrote in London – at the time the world's largest and most populous city – and it plays its own role in the Sherlock stories.

On display are authentic objects from the Victorian period, as well as paintings, photographs, manuscripts and the earliest documentary film footage of London. Contemporary artefacts meanwhile – such as Benedict Cumberbatch’s coat and dressing gown – chart Holmes's transcendence onto stage and screen.

Tags: What to seeExhibitions