It’s been wonderful to see the antithesis of Black Friday, the aptly named Colour Friday flourish of late. Whilst the big retailers slash prices and encourage people to buy things they don’t need or want simply because it’s reduced, smaller businesses have promoted their eclecticism, craftsmanship and difference.
This made us think about the big names and the lesser-known players in British art. We all know the famous institutions like Tate Modern and Tate Britain, The National Gallery and The Royal Academy of Arts. But at smaller, private art galleries around London, you can discover amazing artworks without the crowds. Our guide, David, likens the experience to “taking a limousine tour as opposed to the coach” of the big public galleries. It’s a more exclusive experience.
In fact, big institutions like The National Gallery aren’t galleries at all. They’re defined as museums. And therein lies the distinction. The exclusive environments listed here are actual art galleries and provide wonderful spaces in which to enjoy and appreciate artwork without feeling like you’re on a conveyor belt.
Located in swish Beauchamp Place in Knightsbridge, the fine art experts Gladwell & Patterson have been going since 1752. The current exhibition, Journeys, is full of paintings so beautiful you want to weep for joy. The gallery prides itself on discovering ‘beautiful things’, from 19th and 20th century landscapes to new work by modern artists.
This is David’s favourite small gallery in London. He cites it as a ‘must do’. Everything about this St James establishment is wonderful. You may recognise Philip Mould from BBC’s Fake or Fortune show. It’s helped to make him one of the best-known experts in the art world. He specialises in British art and Old Master paintings.
The current special exhibition is about Sarah Biffen, a 19th-century Shropshire girl who was born with no arms and no legs. Somehow, she learned how to create masterpieces – including miniatures – holding the brush with her mouth. It’s beyond astonishing.
Another favourite, The Stern Pissarro Gallery focuses on modern art and contemporary art. Their exhibition space showcases international artists in particular. This wonderful, family-run business has such helpful, knowledgeable staff. Do go and ask questions. This is the place to go to discover contemporary artists – the Pissarro family artworks are just incredible.
Just around the corner from the Royal Academy of Arts, this Mayfair art gallery has been going since 1945. British and French art is their speciality. Look out for their upcoming Christmas exhibition. Oh and it’s a firm favourite of Sir Paul Smith who declares himself a fan of the contemporary artists that they work with.
Another gallery in the Mayfair London art scene, Flowers represents over 50 international artists. They support artists in art fairs locally and overseas too.
The 40th edition of their Small is Beautiful exhibition is on now. It showcases contemporary artists’ work in teeny, tiny formats (well 7” x 9” maximum).
Opera Gallery is a good place to discover emerging artists alongside Masters. The creative curators host art exhibitions in 12 locations around the world including New York, Monaco and Hong Kong.
Plus, you’ll find it in London’s only Georgian arcade, so even the approach to the Opera Gallery is a treat.
One of the larger spaces, The Miart is a Modern and Contemporary Art Gallery in Mayfair. It spans three floors so it can host a number of exhibitions and art collections simultaneously. It’s showcased the likes of Banksy, Rodin, Wolfgang Stiller and Ben Allen to name a few.
It’s a great place to view the works of emerging artists for the first time. You may see the next Damien Hirst, Andy Warhol, Francis Bacon or Turner Prize winner before they become established.
Another wonderful gallery on the London art scene, Saatchi Yates aims to support early-career artists from around the world. It was founded by Phoebe Saatchi Yates and Arthur Yates. And you guessed it, Phoebe is the daughter of the advertising and art maestro, Charles Saatchi who founded the Saatchi Gallery.
It provides amazing opportunities to new artists, enabling them to exhibit their work in an incredible space in central London.
This gallery is all about the promotion of Canadian artists. They’re currently doing a 2010-2022 Retrospective of Canada’s most prestigious photography prize. This kind of exhibition will only be found in London – a promotional activity on behalf of the Canadian High Commission. That’s not going to tour regional galleries…ever.
We wanted to add a photographers’ gallery to the mix and this is a cracking one. It’s created a diverse community of photographers and their works. They run an eclectic mix of exhibitions as well as fascinating talks too. It’s definitely worth spending some time exploring the art of photography in all its forms here.
The majority of these gallery spaces are within walking distance of each other – Piccadilly, Soho, West End. Of course, there are other wonderful art trails to follow, most notably around Kensington Church Street (art and antiques) or Chelsea. But these are a few hand-picked favourite private art galleries in the environs of Sotheby’s and Christie’s. Both of which are worth a visit to experience art auctions at their best.
Of course, there are cool pop-up galleries in places like Shoreditch, Peckham and Hackney too. But that’s another blog altogether.
The Barbican – you’ve got to love their ethos to inspire more people to love and discover the arts.
Dulwich Picture Gallery – wonderful South London gallery hosting Baroque masterpieces alongside modern sculpture and art.
Serpentine Gallery – presenting pioneering exhibitions in the park and beyond.
Whitechapel Gallery – this historic building opened at the end of the Victorian era and has shown first Pablo Picasso, David Hockney, Frida Kahlo and more.
National Portrait Gallery – is currently closed for refurbishment, so keep an eye out for new exhibitions in 2023.
Southbank Centre – this Bankside institution houses a number of cultural spaces including the Hayward Gallery.
The Victoria and Albert Museum – it may be big but it remains special.