Summer blockbusters – must see art exhibitions in the UK

Summer time means longer nights, holidays and… some of the very best art exhibitions to inspire you for the rest of the year. We highlight our pick of the best to seek out this season in Britain.

Portraying a Nation: Germany 1919-1933, Tate Liverpool

Portrait of the Jeweller Karl Krall 1923, by Otto Dix. Photograph: Tate Livepool/Antje Zeis-Loi, Medienzentrum Wuppertal. © DACS 2017

Capturing the decadent moments in Germany between the two world wars – which many of us recall vividly from repeat watching Cabaret and / or reading the work of Christopher Isherwood – this exhibition filters the period through the work of two modern artists, Otto Dix and August Sander and more than 300 paintings, drawings, prints and photographs. The obscene, the beautiful and the dammed are captured in imagery of German society during the Weimar Republic years, a time that was shaped by the leftover and looming misery of war, political chaos and some incredibly rich, out-there art.
At Tate Liverpool util the 15 October.

Summer Exhibition, Royal Academy, London

Eileen Cooper, Till the Morning Comes, 2017

Over 1000 works of art congregate for the annual Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, which was devised back in 1769 to represent the art of the day – as an “Annual Exhibition of Paintings, Sculptures and Designs … open to all Artists” – and still does. Although the shock factor enjoyed by our Georgian cousins might have migrated to other contemporary exhibitions such as Frieze, the Summer Exhibition still attracts the internationally renowned such as Tracey Emin and Gilbert & George, to show their works alongside lesser known selected artists. The result never disappoints and fyi Instagram tells us there are some tasty colour backdrops in the gallery spaces.
Royal Academy of Arts, W1, to 20 August

Beyond Caravaggio, Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh

Caravaggio’s The Taking of Christ, 1602,

Part of the Edinburgh Art Festival, 2017, this exhibition of art by radical Italian Baroque painter Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610) brings the artist’s dark and dramatic works to Scotland as a collection for the first time. With his bold compositions and controversial subjects, the artist influenced swathes of contemporary artists throughout Europe, including Gentileschi, Ribera, Valentin and Ter Brugghen. They were nicknamed the Caravaggesque painters and this exhibition mixes some of their pieces into the show. Caravaggio famously murdered a man in 1606 after a disagreement over a game of tennis and spent the last four years of his life as a fugitive – a time when he also produced some of his most striking works. His ability to capture light is famous, but it’s the dark moody colour palette that will stick with you after you leave.

Open now until 24 September at the Scottish National Gallery.

Sargent: The Watercolours, Dulwich Picture Gallery, London

The Lady with the Umbrella, 1911, watercolour on paper, over preliminary pencil, with body colour, 65 x 54 cm, Museu de Montserrat. Donated by J. Sala Ardiz. Image © Dani Rovira

London’s impressive small neighbourhood gallery, the Dulwich Picture Gallery is showing the first major UK exhibition of 80 watercolours by the Anglo-American artist, John Singer Sargent (1856-1925), since 1918.  The painter, who loved to travel, created joyful watercolours that dance with light colours whether they depict the cities of Rome, Istanbul or Venice, capture striking landscapes or immortalise the people Sargent met on his travels. For example, the above picturesque The Lady with the Umbrella. Sargent developed his watercolour technique over a number of painting tours in Europe where he would escape the studio to go outside and paint freely. Although his watercolours were not as popular with critics originally, the paintings are being embraced again.

Until 8 October at Dulwich Picture Gallery.

Intro image, A Turkish Woman by a Stream, by John Singer Sargent.

Jill Macnair


Jill Macnair has worked as an interiors journalist for 13 years, contributing to titles including Elle Decoration, The Sunday Times and The Guardian. She set up cult interiors blog My Friend’s House in 2009 with Ros Anderson and continues to run the forum daily.

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