What to see: Exhibitions 2016

  • 8 December 2015

From Italian old masters to the creators of comic culture, internet-based installations to Shakespeare-inspired scenes; these are the exhibitions to get excited about in 2016.

Literary celebrations

Venues across the country are set to mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death in spring 2016. In his home county of Warwickshire, Compton Verney plans to bring together a host of artists who have been inspired by the bard – such as Singer Sargent, Fuseli and Watts – uniting their work with film and audio excerpts from his greatest plays in an exhibition entitled Shakespeare in Art: Tempests, Tyrants and Tragedy.

Shakespeare in Ten Acts, a show at the British Library in April, will explore how the playwright’s works have been transformed, translated, faked, forged, revised and recast to suit the times in which they are performed. Keats House, meanwhile – which takes its names from the English Romantic poet who formerly lived there – will present an exhibition that ties together the writing of these two great literary heroes. Also celebrating an anniversary this year is the Brontë Parsonage Museum, where Charlotte Great and Small will mark 200 years since the writer's birth by exploring the contrast between her constricted life in Haworth and her lofty ambitions for greatness.

The allure of Italy

Botticelli and Treasures from the Hamilton Collection, The Courtauld Gallery, 18 February – 8 May Sandro Botticelli, Dante and Beatrice in the second planetary sphere of Paradise, 1481-1495. © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Kupferstichkabinett / Philipp Allard

Botticelli and Treasures from the Hamilton Collection, The Courtauld Gallery, 18 February – 8 May

Italian master Sandro Botticelli is the subject of two separate exhibitions in the new year: The Courtauld Gallery showcases a display of 30 of his rarely seen drawings in February, while the V&A shifts its focus towards the artists and designers his work has inspired in the 500 years since his death at its exhibition in March. Elsewhere, the Royal Academy hosts In the Age of Giorgione, an exploration of Venetian Renaissance art that will combine works by Titian, Bellini and others with that of the lesser-known talent Giovanni Cariani.

The National Gallery rounds off 2016 with its autumn blockbuster, Beyond Caravaggio, which is set to chart the influence that the artist's strikingly theatrical paintings had on his contemporaries and followers. Additionally, 10 captivating drawings by Leonardo da Vinci will travel to venues across the UK, beginning at the Laing Art Gallery in February.

Pre-Raphaelite glory

Leighton House – former home of the Victorian artist and friend of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood Frederic Leighton – offers a rare chance to see more than 100 drawings by Millais, Rossetti, Waterhouse and others from the collection of Canadian orthognathic dentist Dennis Lanigan in February, while further north the Walker Art Gallery reveals Liverpool's connection to the movement with an expansive show of more than 120 paintings.

Watts Gallery takes up the mantle in March, turning its attention to the Pre-Raphaelite muse-turned-painter Marie Spartali Stillman, who used her art to retell stories from early Italian poetry. Despite being one of the most brilliant artists of the age, she has had no UK retrospective dedicated to her work until now.

Great Brits

John Constable's paintings are seen from a meteorological perspective in February as The Lightbox investigates how he was able to combine scientific observation with artistic skill to record changes in the weather. In October attention turns to his artistic rival, JMW Turner, as an exhibition of his Margate watercolours at Turner Contemporary promises to reveal how his eccentric use of colour was the key to his success.

A show focused on the architectural framing of Bacon's portraits is primed to bring fresh understanding of his art at Tate Liverpool, from May, while the Italian-inspired work of his contemporary, Winifred Knights is under investigation at Dulwich Picture Gallery over the summer. New paintings by fellow 20th-century titan David Hockney are shown at the Royal Academy in July, including 79 portraits of the flamboyant characters he has encountered in LA over the past two years.

Vogue 100: A Century of Style, National Portrait Gallery, 11 February – 22 May Cecil Beaton, David Hockney, Peter Schlesinger and Maudie James, 1968 © The Condé Nast Publications Ltd

Vogue 100: A Century of Style, National Portrait Gallery, 11 February – 22 May

Fashion restyled

The National Portrait Gallery kicks off the year in style by bringing together more than 280 photographs from the Condé Nast archive to celebrate the 100th anniversary of British Vogue – Henri Matisse, Lucian Freud and Damien Hirst are among the artists captured. A converse show at the Barbican, meanwhile, will celebrate vulgarity in fashion, with distasteful examples spanning from the Renaissance to the contemporary.

In March the Fashion Textile Museum surveys the career of psychedelic artist Marian Clayden, who was able to turn her talent at tie-dying into a million-dollar business, while The Jewish Museum picks apart the menswear revolution – specifically the role that Jewish designers have played in the emergence of the modern male wardrobe. Later in spring the V&A undresses the history of underwear, charting its role from fashion to function, before Brighton Museum throws the spotlight on Africa, exploring contemporary style in four key cities: Casablanca, Lagos, Nairobi and Johannesburg.

Make it modern

Delacroix's dramatic, Romantic approach to painting paved the way for modern art, asserts a show at the National Gallery in February, while in Bath the Holburne Museum marks its centenary year with a display of figurative work by 19th-century radicals, the Impressionists. At the Ashmolean there's a chance to discover lesser-known works by the Prince of Pop, Andy Warhol, on loan from a private collection.

Georgia O'Keeffe is the star of Tate Modern's summer show, which aims to redefine the famed flower painter as an ambitious and influential artist whose multilayered images have Freudian possibilities. From October, Tate Britain hosts a sprawling display of Paul Nash's work, including his Surreal modernist landscapes, which engage with natural cycles such as phases of the moon. 

Geek chic

Opening in January, Electronic Superhighway at the Whitechapel Gallery surveys the way computer and internet technologies have impacted on the work of contemporary artists, featuring browser-based works and interactive installations. The Imitation Game at Manchester Art Gallery is similarly themed, this time drawing together those whose work has been inspired by machines as part of the European City of Science programme.

House of Illustration dedicates its spring show to the world's leading female comic artists; the largest exhibition of its kind, it features the pioneering work of more than 100 women. Delving into the history of graphic narrative is the Hunterian Art Gallery, where a display in March will investigate picture stories dating back as far as Ancient Greece. Meanwhile, in April, the Cartoon Museum celebrates the Great British graphic novel.

Otherworlds: Visions of our Solar System, Natural History Museum, 22 January – 15 May Michael Benson, Sol 813

Otherworlds: Visions of our Solar System, Natural History Museum, 22 January – 15 May

Best of the rest

Michael Benson's otherworldly photographs – rendered from Nasa data collected over six decades of space exploration – are a January highlight, and on display at the Natural History Museum. In February Yorkshire Sculpture Park hosts the debut UK show of the American artist KAWS, while in Cambridge the Fitzwilliam Museum brings together an exhibition of Egyptian coffins for its bicentenary year. At the Whitworth, the Italian artist Nico Vascellari transports visitors to locations from his childhood using performance, sculpture, video and a soundtrack created in collaboration with Turkish-born musician Ghédalia Tazartès.

In spring Chatsworth House will be showing Cecil Beaton's pictures of the late lady of the manor Deborah Devonshire and her glamorous circle of friends. The British Museum hosts Sunken Cities, an exhibition devoted to amazing discoveries of underwater archaeology, as its 2015 blockbuster, Celts, journeys to National Museums of Scotland for an Edinburgh showing. Meanwhile the National Portrait Gallery breaks new ground with a show celebrating key cultural icons of Russia's artistic golden age, part of an unprecedented art exchange with the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow. At the end of the year, sculpture, textiles and weapons go on display at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts in the largest exhibition devoted to the art of Fiji.

Enjoy 50% off admission price to exhibitions at major museums including Tate, V&A and the National Gallery with a National Art Pass.

Tags: ExhibitionsGreat days outMuseums and galleriesWhat to see