The exhibitions you must see this December

Published 18 November 2021

From the colourful characters of the Beano comics and the jewelled creations of Fabergé to the work of iconoclast filmmaker and activist Derek Jarman, say goodbye to 2021 with these unmissable exhibitions.

In just a month’s time, 2021 will be over and we’ll be looking forward to a fresh start. But before you get wrapped up in festive decorations and planning a sparkly outfit or two, why not finish the year in style at one of these unmissable exhibitions.

From Salvador Dalí at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art to Amy Winehouse at the Design Museum and Derek Jarman at Manchester Art Gallery, this month it’s all about icons. Whether you’re stunned by Lubaina Himid’s evocative portraits, Fabergé’s precious jewelled eggs or Bridget Riley’s optical illusions, there's something to suit every artistic appetite.

And don’t forget to grab your ticket to some of the major exhibitions closing soon, such as Mixing it Up: Painting Today at the Hayward Gallery (closing 12 December), Leiko Ikemura: Usagi in Wonderland at the Sainsbury Centre (also closing 12 Dec) and Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser at the V&A (closing 31 Dec).

Most of our must-see exhibitions are 50% off or free with a National Art Pass – and don’t forget, there are hundreds more fantastic shows to discover in our full exhibition listings.

Theicon signifies when there is a National Art Pass offer
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Life Between Islands: Caribbean-British Art 50s - now

50% off exhibitions

Featuring work by filmmaker Horace Ové, portrait artist Claudette Johnson and fashion designer Grace Wales Bonner, the exhibition Life Between Islands showcases artists of Caribbean heritage who are making work across the world. Painting, photography, drawing, film and fashion all explore how Caribbean culture has transformed British identity since the Second World War.


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Bridget Riley, (1931-), Nataraja, 1993, Oil on canvas, Purchased 1994. Photo © Tate, © Bridget Riley, 2020. All rights reserved.

Bridget Riley: Pleasures of Sight

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Known for her striking optical illusions and mesmerising use of colour, Bridget Riley has spent her career manipulating our ways of seeing with her meticulous paintings. This exhibition includes works made in every decade of her long career, demonstrating how she developed into a master of 'op art'.


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Beano: The Art of Breaking the Rules

Let your inner child run free as comics' most notorious rulebreakers rule the roost at Somerset House. Featuring the likes of Dennis and Gnasher, Minnie the Minx, Bananaman and the Bash Street Kids, this exhibition displays original drawings, artefacts and objects from the vibrant Beano archive, exploring how these loveable characters inspired a generation of troublemakers. The exhibition also includes work by artists breaking rules of their own, such as installation artist Phyllida Barlow and satirist Bedwyr Williams.


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Hepworth carving in the Palais de Danse, 1961. © Bowness, Hepworth Estate Photo: Rosemary Mathews

Barbara Hepworth: Art & Life

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Closing in February 2022, this exhibition exploring legendary British sculptor Barbara Hepworth in her beloved Wakefield is only on for a few more months. Make sure you don’t miss out on her large-scale bronzes, strung sculptures, drawings, paintings and fabric designs. The exhibition gives an insight into the wide-reaching career of this modern master of sculpture, and includes many striking works such as Three Forms, made shortly after Barbara gave birth to triplets.


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Derek Jarman: Protest!

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A year on from our landmark campaign to save Derek Jarman’s Prospect Cottage, Manchester Art Gallery is hosting a major retrospective of the artist and filmmaker’s career, bringing never-before-seen works into public view for the first time. From defining a new era in British painting to using his platform for political protest, Jarman was one of the most influential public figures in 20th-century Britain. This exhibition includes his evocative self-portraits, film works and his powerful slogan paintings from the 1990s.


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Amy: Beyond the Stage

50% off exhibitions

Regarded as one of the world’s most sensational vocalists and a cultural icon in her own right, Amy Winehouse had a lasting impact on the music industry and an army of fans around the world. This exhibition explores her vibrant life and career that tragically ended too soon. Her baby blue Fender Stratocaster guitar, handwritten lyrics, memorable outfits and never-before-seen personal items are on display alongside work by the musical artists who inspired her most.


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William Dyce, Welsh Landscape with Two Women Knitting (1860) Oil on board

The Rules of Art?

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This exhibition explores how artists have united in a shared purpose for hundreds of years, constantly reimagining what art can be. Featuring work by artists such as Rembrandt, Picasso and Gwen John, the exhibition also includes contemporary works such as John Akomfrah’s Vertigo Sea, which was supported by Art Fund.


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Fabergé in London: Romance to Revolution

50% off exhibitions

You’ve probably heard of the rare and opulent Fabergé egg, a highly desirable collector’s item and symbol of extreme wealth and status. But you might not know much about the historic jewellers behind these decorative creations, The House of Fabergé. In this exhibition, the V&A showcase the incredible history, talent, vision and craftsmanship of the Fabergé firm. Highlights such as rare eggs made for Russian Tsars, jewelled cigarette cases and extravagant pendants are on display, and the show has a particular focus on the important Anglo-Russian relationship that inspired the London store, which opened in 1903.


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New Arrivals: From Salvador Dali to Jenny Saville

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You might recognise a couple of the intriguing works in this exhibition – Salvador Dalí's iconic Lobster Telephone and a series of collages by Wangechi Mutu – as both joined the vibrant collection of modern and contemporary art at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in 2020 with support from Art Fund. Take a look at them up close alongside other recently acquired gems, including work by witty surrealist René Magritte and early modernist painter Marc Chagall.


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Lubaina Himid Ball on Shipboard, 2018 Rennie Collection, Vancouver © Lubaina Himid

Lubaina Himid

50% off exhibitions

This exhibition takes its inspiration from Lubaina Himid’s roots in theatre design, bringing together her powerful figurative paintings from both a centre-stage and backstage perspective. As a major player in the Black Arts movement of the 1960s and a powerful advocate for the representation of Black women in visual art, Himid combines portrait painting, social activism and visual storytelling to create evocative paintings of forgotten histories and overlooked subjects.


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