After more than a year in London, I finally made it to Tate Britain. In this case I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, but I felt it was somewhere I should go. I quickly realized that the collection was a history of British art, from the 1700s to the present. As I wandered the galleries, both permanent collection and temporary exhibitions, I had several thoughts (of course).
Some of my more immediate thoughts concentrated on the map and gallery layout. This persisted through my entire visit, as there seemed to be staircases everywhere that weren’t on the map, but didn’t quite seem like they were off limits, as well as named rooms I, in some cases, assumed to be dedicated to an artist or donor, but in fact were conference rooms and lobbies. The map must also be slightly outdated, as many of the temporary displays mentioned on the map had changed.
I was also, in some ways, confused about why the Tate Britain exists at all, in some ways. This struck me most as I was wandering into the 1990s gallery, wondering why these works were not at Tate Modern, and then wondering why the more historic collections were not at the National Gallery. At some point I wandered past a sign saying they had originally been part of the National Gallery. I understand on one level that grouping all of the British art together makes sense, maybe particularly from an education standpoint? school groups abounded!), but from another sense, I wondered about the number of visitors received, and if there weren’t more at the other galleries, particularly as Tate Britain is slightly outside of the way, wondering if it were not better to keep the collections together.
Besides all of that, I did of course have some of my usual reactions to the more recent collections of art, such as a canvas painted entirely black. (I’m trying!), but there were some temporary exhibitions I thought were quite interesting including Poor Man’s Picture Gallery: Victorian Art and Stereoscopic Photography. This display compared Victorian and Pre-Raphaelite Paintings to a number of stereoscope images recreating those same paintings- making them more widely available. It was great to be able to compare the two mediums side by side. I also liked the historical timeline printed on one of the walls, outlining the history of collecting in Britain. Extra context is always nice.
Overall, it was a good visit, wandering through Turners, Constables, and other British masters. It’s a beautiful collection, in a beautiful building, with Turner, Constable, and Pre-Raphaelite art being the major highlights.