Twelve Artistic Treasures Meet in London

Explore the Wealth of Britain's Public Collections, Brought Together at Sotheby's

L ondon: An Artistic Crossroads, brings together remarkable works by artists who travelled through or settled in the UK during their lifetime, and for whom it had an effect on their creative journey. Flemish artist Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger, who became one of the most sought-after portraitists in England during the 16th century, painted the earliest work on display. It is joined by a vibrant landscape by André Derain, for whom London was a place of explosive transformation, as well as an iconic Composition by Piet Mondrian who, out of fear of German invasion and encouraged by Ben Nicholson, left Paris for Hampstead in 1938.

Francesca Hawyard, Claudette Johnson, Plínio Fernandes and Braimah Kanneh-Mason with Frank Bowling's Big Bird. Photographed by Charlotte Hadden.

Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon and Dame Lucie Rie are included in the line up, all émigrés, Freud from metropolitan Germany, Bacon from rural Ireland and Rie from Vienna, in addition to Frank Bowling, R.B. Kitaj and Dame Magdalene Odundo, among others. The exhibition coincides with NG200, celebrating the bicentenary of London’s National Gallery - which it is intended to complement. As the National Gallery launches its National Treasures programme, where twelve of the nation’s most iconic and well-loved paintings from the collection are lent to twelve venues across the UK, this exhibition does the reverse: bringing twelve works from major regional collections together in the capital city.

Open House Talks with partner museums and Art UK will take place on Sunday 2 June, 1:00 PM–5:00 PM. Register for tickets here.

"The UK holds arguably the greatest public collection of art in the world. Art UK brings together this collection, spread across nearly 3,500 institutions, and shares it online with a global audience of millions. To inaugurate our partnership with Sotheby’s, this exhibition brings together a dozen stunning artworks primarily from museums outside London, highlighting the treasures to be found in our regional collections. It powerfully illustrates how the UK’s rich cultural heritage draws on creators and influences emanating from well beyond our shores. All of us at Art UK greatly look forward to further collaborations with Sotheby’s that showcase the UK’s national art collection."
Andrew Ellis, Chief Executive, Art UK

Frank Bowling, Big Bird, 1964. The Victoria Gallery and Museum, University of Liverpool

“We are honoured to be able to contribute to this important exhibition at Sotheby’s celebrating the major contribution that artists of African diaspora heritage have made to the British cultural landscape, and recognising how London has had such a pivotal role in that process. Big Bird has a permanent place in one of the main student teaching buildings on campus. It is a very large painting and its colours just glow. It is a work of outstanding charisma that has great impact when you enter the large light-filled atrium in which it hangs. Since earliest times Britain has been a nation of incoming peoples and of cultural exchange. We are an old nation, but one that is open to innovation and new approaches." —Dr Amanda Draper, Curator of Art & Exhibitions, the Victoria Gallery and Museum.

The Victoria Gallery and Museum, University of Liverpool. McCoy Wynne

Big Bird, of 1964, is one of the most impressive paintings to survive from the early part of his career. The influence of Bacon can be felt in its diptych structure, impulsive handling and blurred forms, while the flat planes of colour laid out in grid formation pay homage to the memory of Mondrian. The principal motif, of a swan with a bloodied beak wheeling though space, was based on an actual dying swan, its feathers gummed together with oil, that he had seen one day while walking the shore of the Thames. —Andrew Graham-Dixon.

" is a work of outstanding charisma that has great impact when you enter the large light-filled atrium in which it hangs."

André Derain, Barges on the Thames, Leeds Art Gallery

"It is wonderful to support The National Gallery’s bicentenary celebrations, in partnership with Sotheby’s and ArtUK, with a loan from the Leeds Museums and Galleries collection demonstrating the abiding influence of London on some of the world’s greatest artists." —Dr David Hopes, Head of Leeds Museums & Galleries.

Phillip Hendy who was in charge of the Gallery from the mid to late 1930s, and who went on to be Director of the National Gallery after the Second World War, acquired this painting from Alex Reid and Lefevre Ltd., in 1937 after he deftly persuaded the City Council to set up a ‘Corporation Fund’ for buying works of art, succeeding where previous curators had failed. He’s now known principally for the works he pulled in from a younger generation of contemporary British artists which put Leeds firmly on the map in terms of having a collection of 20th century British art, but he also acquired some significant French pictures, among them a Courbet, and a Vuillard, which then was more expensive than this Derain.

Leeds Art Gallery.

André Derain produced an extraordinary series of paintings of London at the height of his avant-garde notoriety, then only 26, having been newly branded a Fauve or 'wild beast' in Paris for his uncompromising use of pure colour. After this Paris show, building on his rising artistic fame, and indeed 'celebrity' status, Derain’s dealer Ambroise Vollard sent him to London to update, in ‘Fauve style’, the popular Thames views painted by Claude Monet a few years earlier and recently exhibited (1899-1904). “This picture … was one of a group of pictures which I made for M. Vollard”, wrote Derain, “who had sent me to London at that time so that I could make some paintings for him. After a stay in London he was very enthusiastic and wanted paintings inspired by the London atmosphere. He sent me in the hope of renewing completely at that date the expression which Claude Monet had so strikingly achieved which had made a very strong impression in Paris in the preceding years”.

"He sent me to London in the hope of renewing completely at that date the expression which Claude Monet had so strikingly achieved which had made a very strong impression in Paris in the preceding years”.
André Derain

Monet had painted series of canvases of the same three motifs – Waterloo Bridge, Charing Cross Bridge and the Houses of Parliament but Derain worked at a number of points along the Thames from the Houses of Parliament to as far east as Greenwich. The result was a series of 29 canvases, produced on three visits to the city between 1906 and 1907, that confronted the traditions of Impressionism and constructed a new artistic language to express an unprecedented vision of the capital, seen not as fog-shrouded and gloomy but bathed in piercingly bright sunshine and radiating wild colours.

Francis Bacon, Pope I (Study after Pope Innocent X by Diego Velázquez), Aberdeen Art Gallery and Museums

“We are delighted to have been invited by Sotheby’s to be one of the 12 distinguished UK institutions lending masterpieces to the forthcoming exhibition celebrating London: An Artistic Crossroads. Pope I - Study after Pope Innocent X by Velazquez  by Francis Bacon is indeed one of the highlights of Aberdeen’s outstanding collection. We’re pleased that Sotheby’s is showcasing the quality of Aberdeen’s collection by including this important work by Francis Bacon in this loan exhibition of 12 masterpieces, and that the portrait will be enjoyed by new audiences in London this summer.” What makes it stand out above all else? The reproductions I had seen of Francis Bacon’s Pope I - Study after Pope Innocent X by Velazquez made me believe it was quite a small work. I was completely unprepared for its epic size when I first saw it. I discovered later that Bacon always framed his paintings in gold frames unlike many modern artists who dispensed with frames entirely. The gold frame makes his work stand out in its surrounding. Bacon was a self-taught painter, and he was his own worst critic. He destroyed a considerable number of his early works. The art critic, John Russell explains: “the pictures were to deserve either the National Gallery or the dustbin, with nothing in between.” So, it is a miracle that this early work survives. This made me feel really privileged the first time I saw it." —Helen Fothergill, Service Manager, Aberdeen Archives, Gallery & Museums.

Aberdeen Art Gallery and Museums. Mike Davidson

Britain’s unique historic environment and cultural heritage are in many ways inseparable from the arts. It inspires a rich artistic culture that has fostered talents within the UK and drawn artists from elsewhere to our shores. Both today and it the past, there is a sense of freedom and liberation in the arts. Practitioners challenge, push boundaries and innovate – this is attractive, artists outside of the UK want to participate in this and channel it into their work. Museums and galleries are an essential part of the cultural hub. The quality of these institutions in the UK is second to none. They opportunity for individuals and communities to access a diverse range of high-quality artistic activities in most of these venues, free of charge, also raises the profile of the country nationally and internationally. They are also a phenomenal archival resource for contemporary artists. It comes as little wonder that today’s artists will travel to see those masterpieces ‘in flesh’ that inspired their careers.

Lucie Rie, Vase and Bowl, Crafts Study Centre, Farnham

"Lucie Rie showed great tenacity and determination to succeed in London. With only a handful of contacts when she arrived, Rie developed a distinct language for her ceramics drawing from an acute knowledge of glazes and surface techniques. Rie earned great admiration from her adopted homeland. The Crafts Study Centre is honoured to loan two of her standout pieces to London: An Artistic Crossroads, as representatives of Britain's rich history of studio craft." —Stephen Knott Director, Crafts Study Centre.

The Crafts Study Centre, Farnham.
"Lucie Rie showed great tenacity and determination to succeed in London...and earned great admiration from her adopted homeland"

The Vase and Bowl exhibited here both date from the 1970s, when Rie was at the peak of her powers and confidence. The Vase is what Rie would have described as a "Byzantine bottle", consisting of a bulbous base from which rises the more flowing, beaker-like form above: a twisted amphora, in essence. The work was created by a method which she had first developed less than ten years earlier to create a new form of patterning.

Johann Zoffany, Charles Townley and Friends in His Library at Park Street, Westminster, Towneley Hall Art Gallery & Museum

"Towneley Hall is thrilled to be contributing to such a dynamic exhibition covering many years of creativity in the UK. The painting Charles Towneley and Friends in His Library at Park Street, Westminister depicts a very early example of museum collectors in the UK. After the death of Charles Towneley his collection was transferred to the British Museum providing a strong link between early museum collectors and East Lancashire where the painting now resides." —Sally Smith, Manager, Towneley Hall Art Gallery & Museum.

Towneley Hall. Jon Thompson

Johan Zoffany never mastered the English language, speaking in a thick German accent until the end of his long life, but he remained fiercely loyal to the country where he would make his name. When quizzed about his nationality by the Holy Roman Emperor, Joseph II, he replied that he had been born in Ratisbon, eastern Bavaria, "but I am an Englishman, because in that country I found protection and encouragement." —Andrew Graham Dixon.

Frank Auerbach, Head of Gerda Boehm, Sainsbury Centre, Norwich

"It is always fantastic that an aspect of the Sainsbury Centre museum collection can find new audiences in wonderful shows like this. The first time I saw this painting it blew me away with how it captures the intensity of the dedication and meditative process of painting. Artists have long been drawn to Britain for the long established hope for freedom of expression and dialogue, and historically patrons, institutions and supporters who can help fund them." —Dr. Jago Cooper, Executive Director, Sainsbury Centre, Norwich.

Sainsbury Centre, Norwich. Photograph: Andy Crouch.

Gerda Boehm was the only surviving relative Auerbach saw after he left Germany. She was an older cousin and had run away to England with her husband in 1938, the year before Auerbach himself arrived. Gerda first sat to the artist in 1961 and continued sitting at regular intervals until 1982. Every picture painted was a reminder of the fact that, no matter what, they still had each other. —Andrew Graham Dixon.

R.B. Kitaj, The Architects, Pallant House Gallery, Chichester

This family portrait of the architects MJ Long (right), Colin St John Wilson (seated) and their children, Sal in the doorway between her parents, and Harry to the far left, was painted by R. B. Kitaj from 1979. It was during this time that MJ Long was redesigning Kitaj’s studio at his terraced house in Chelsea – the setting for this group portrait. Kitaj was a friend of the couple and had made his home in England after relocating from America in the 1950s to study at the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art in Oxford, followed by the Royal College of Art where he was a contemporary of David Hockney, Derek Boshier and Patrick Caulfield.

Pallant House Gallery, Chichester.

Kitaj has sometimes been associated with the Pop Art movement, due to his use of bold areas of flat colour and his occasionally cartoon-like draughtsmanship, shot through with satirical intent. He preferred to think of himself as a Surrealist, a painter fascinated by the slippages and dislocations of twentieth-century life; and there was also something of the Dadaist about him, inclined to political outrage and eloquent in his expression of it. Kitaj read widely and wrote fluently, curating an influential exhibition at the Hayward Gallery in London in 1976 entitled "The Human Clay." —Andrew Graham-Dixon.

Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger, Frances Howard (1578–1639), Duchess of Richmond and Lennox, Compton Verney

“We are excited to have this opportunity to shine a spotlight on Gheeraerts, an artist not often focused on, and to be able to showcase one of the earliest portraits in Compton Verney’s collections. We are especially excited to support this exhibition as it’s our 20th anniversary year. Compton Verney is an extraordinary, unusual, creative experience. A place for the curious that inspires, delights, challenges and rejuvenates with an award-winning gallery based in a Grade I-listed Georgian mansion, amid 120 acres of Grade II-listed Lancelot 'Capability' Brown parkland in Warwickshire." —Geraldine Collinge, CEO, Compton Verney.

Compton Verney, Warwickshire.

Like so many other artists come to London from abroad, the painter had arrived as a refugee from war. His father, Marcus Gheeraerts the Elder, was one among thousands of Flemish Protestants who had fled to England from the Habsburg Netherlands in the late 1560s, driven from their homeland by the Duke of Alva's campaigns of bloody persecution against those daring to defect from the Catholic faith. By 1568, both father and son were recorded as living in the London parish of St Mary Abchurch; Gheeraerts the Younger was six or seven years old at the time. —Andrew Graham-Dixon.

Walter Sickert, Reclining Nude (Le lit de cuivre), Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery, Exeter

"Sickert’s Le lit de cuivre places the viewer in an uncomfortable situation. Stepping into an intimate space as a voyeur, it forces you to address the reclining figure of the nude woman, and yet her face is indistinct and shadowed in contrast to the details of the shiny brass bedstead picked out by the light. The painting is a window into the dark side of city life set within a familiar domestic setting. The fact that Sickert spent time in the UK is perhaps a lesser known aspect of his career. Sickert returned from painting in Venice and Dieppe to seek inspiration in Britain. He found it in Camden Town. Not only in the dilapidated slum tenements and their occupants but in a group of enthusiastic artists determined to lead a renaissance in English painting. Sickert’s nudes captured an unsettling aspect of Edwardian society and encouraged a generation of painters to expose the realities of life in contemporary London." —Julien Parsons, Collections and Content Manager, Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery.

Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery, Exeter. Matt Austin

Sickert’s nudes captured an unsettling aspect of Edwardian society and encouraged a generation of painters to expose the realities of life in contemporary London. Britain is blessed with a multitude of rural landscapes from mountains to moors and a patchwork of farmland. It also a melting pot of cultures, especially within its cities, created by centuries of migration. Perhaps artists arrive in Britain with preconceptions about the country and its people only to be confounded by what they actually experience.

Lucian Freud, John Minton, Royal College of Art, London

"When I first saw this painting, I was immediately struck by the elusive and restrained emotion in the subject’s face. Freud’s use of sedate colours and warm shadows creates an intimate portrait evoking a rich inner world of turmoil and play. Artists thrive in places and conditions of paradox - where new ideas and experimentation coexist with tradition, where individualism mixes with community, and where beauty meets reality. These are qualities that make London and the UK a global hub of creativity and culture." —Professor Christoph Lindner, President and Vice-Chancellor, Royal College of Art.

John Minton was a tutor at the Royal College of Art between 1949 and 1956, a role that he combined with an active practice as an artist and illustrator. Fellow painter Bridget Riley remembers: "The warmth and heart of the school was John Minton, whose compassion, sophistication and wit were immensely reassuring. You realised at once that he was aware that the problems he faced were in essence common ones. He was much loved by the students." After seeing Freud’s 1952 portrait of Francis Bacon, Minton commissioned one of himself. Representative of Freud’s maturing style, the portrait combines raw technical brilliance with emotional acuity. In Some Thoughts on Painting, published in Encounter magazine, July 1954, Freud said: "Painters who use life itself as their subject-matter, working with the object in front of them, or constantly in mind, do so in order to translate life into art almost literally, as it were… The painter makes real to others his innermost feelings about all that he cares for."

Royal College of Art, London.

Contemporary and Royal College of Art alumnus Frank Auerbach said of these early works: "The subject is raw, not cooked to be more digestible as art, not covered in a gravy of ostentatious tone or colour, not arranged on a plate as a “composition". The paintings live because their creator has been passionately attentive to their theme, and his attention has left something for us to look at. It seems a sort of miracle." In 1957, John Minton took his own life, bequeathing this painting to the RCA. It holds a unique place in the Royal College of Art’s collection, both for its outstanding quality and its subject, whose influence was felt over a generation of artists. It is one of the most popular works in the collection, and is frequently requested for inclusion in exhibitions in museums around the world.

Piet Mondrian, Composition C (No.III) with Red, Yellow and Blue, Tate, London

As a key figure in the De Stijl art movement, Mondrian changed his artistic direction from figurative painting to an abstract representation that we associate him with to this day. Arguably one of the most influential artists on contemporary visual culture, London became a creative sanctuary for him as he experimented with developing abstract forms.

Tate Modern, Bankside, London.

Mondrian was deeply philosophical about the role of art in society, as he described in 1914: "Art is higher than reality and has no direct relation to reality. To approach the spiritual in art, one will make as little use as possible of reality, because reality is opposed to the spiritual. We find ourselves in the presence of an abstract art. Art should be above reality, otherwise it would have no value for man."

Dame Magdalene Odundo, Tall Bottle, School of Art, Museum and Galleries, Aberystwyth University

Born in Nairobi, Kenya and now based in Britain, Dame Magadalene Odundo is one of the world most celebrated ceramic artists working today. Odundo’s work is hand built, using a coiling technique. Each piece is burnished, covered with slip, and then burnished again. The pieces are fired in an oxidizing atmosphere, which turns them a red-orange.

School of Art, Museum and Galleries, Aberystwyth University.

Her work Tall Bottle was purchased for the School of Art, Museum and Galleries at Aberystwyth University with assistance from the V&A Purchase Grant Fund, allowing regional museum to acquire important works to expand their collections.

Art UK is an art education charity and the online home for every public collection of art in the United Kingdom. It is making the UK’s national collection of art accessible to everyone online – for enjoyment, learning and research. Showcasing over 300,000 artworks from almost 3,500 British institutions, no other country has such a resource. Discover more at

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