London: Best Paintings And Where To Find Them

London is an art lover’s delight. With artistic treasures spanning centuries and movements, the city’s many galleries and museums offer something for every taste. Even better, many of these innovative, beautiful and thought-provoking pieces are part of the national collection and are thus available to enjoy entirely free of charge.

Before your trip and stay in our luxury rentals, take a moment to get acquainted with some of London’s greatest artworks and where to find them.

Georges Seurat, Bathers at Asnières, 1884 (National Gallery – Free)

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Bathers at Asnieres, George seurat

Seurat’s monumental pointillist masterpiece Bathers at Asnières (Une Baignade, Asnières) depicts working class men relaxing on the left bank of the river Seine. The artist’s first large-scale painting, it juxtaposes the smoky industry of nearby factories with the simple harmony of leisure time spent on a riverbank. The work is suffused with a sense of hazy summer warmth and light lent by small brushstrokes and soft, muted colours. In both its subject and tones it can be seen in contrast to another of Seurat’s paintings from later the same year – A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. The latter piece is set directly across the river from the Asnières scene and shows upper class leisure, this time bathed in shadow instead of light.

Jan van Eyck, Arnolfini Portrait, 1434 (National Gallery – Free)

The Arnolfini Portrait by van Eyck is one of the most celebrated paintings in European art, renowned for its originality, complexity and air of mystery (to this day there’s disagreement about the meaning of the painting). The domestic scene it depicts seems modest on the surface, but a closer look sees each detail brought to life in skilful reproduction – from status symbols and sumptuous fabrics to the convex reflections of the scene in the mirror on the wall.

Other prominent works at the National Gallery include: Hans Holbein the Younger, The Ambassadors; Monet, The Water-Lily Pond; Botticelli, Mars and Venus; Turner, The Fighting Temeraire and Van Gogh, Sunflowers.

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The Arnolfini Portrait, Jan Van Eyck

Mark Rothko, Seagram Murals, 1958 (Tate Modern – Free)

Though the Seagram Murals were originally commissioned for the Four Seasons restaurant in New York, Rothko was repulsed by the overtly pretentious atmosphere of the setting and withdrew from the project before the series was complete. He kept hold of the paintings and they were subsequently sold off in separate groups. Room 3 at the Tate Modern unites their own eight murals with a selection of those from Kawamura Memorial Museum of Art in Sakura and the National Gallery of Art in Washington.

The wash of deep tones marked a dramatic shift in Rothko’s palette and the pieces were, according to him, intended to inspire feelings of invited entrapment and the sense of being ‘walled in’. Though they were explicitly intended to imbue negativity in viewers, there is also a quiet grandeur and warmth to the large and sombre frames.

Other prominent works at the Tate Modern include: Picasso, Weeping Woman; Frampton, Marguerite Kelsey; Kandinsky, Swinging and Matisse, The Snail.

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Room 3 at the Tate: Seagram Murals by Mark Rothko

Édouard Manet, A Bar At The Folies-Bergère, 1882 (Courtauld Gallery)

Manet’s painting of a barmaid at a Paris music hall was recently hailed as the best painting in London by Time Out, who called it ‘one of the most psychologically-charged paintings you’ll ever see, a glittering world of misleading reflections and skewed perspectives.’ The last of Manet’s great works, its most intriguing element is perhaps the ambiguous expression of the barmaid and how that relates to the powerful gaze present in the painting (whether that of the man in the mirror or our own gaze as viewers).

Other prominent works at the Courtauld Gallery include: Degas, Two Dancers on a Stage; Cézanne, Mont Sainte-Victoire with a Large Pine; Gauguin, Nevermore and van Gogh, Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear.

Edouard Manet, A Bar at the Folies Bergère in London museum
A Bar at the Folies-Bergères, Edouard Manet

Associated with John Taylor, William Shakespeare, c. 1600-1610 (National Portrait Gallery – Free)

The ‘Chandos portrait’ of William Shakespeare (reputed to be by John Taylor) is perhaps most distinguished by its provenance; the portrait is the only depiction of the playwright with a reasonable claim to have been painted from life. The pale skin of Shakespeare’s face almost glows against the rich background tones and his black doublet, appropriate for such an incomparable luminary of English literature. What’s more, our Covent Garden residence is close by.

Other prominent works in the National Portrait Gallery include: Unknown, Queen Elizabeth I (the ‘Darnley portrait’) and Austen, Jane Austen.

 Jean-Honoré Fragonard, The Swing, 1767 (Wallace Collection – Free)

A sensuous masterpiece of the rococo era, The Swing (Les hazards heureux de l’escarpolette) symbolises the hedonistic and flighty spirit of the time. A young lady – gliding through the air with abandon, dress billowing and shoe flying – is observed rather indecorously by the reclining young man in the bottom left. According to the memoirs of the writer Charles Collé, this risqué composition originated with the courtier who commissioned the work, originally from a different artist: ‘I should like to have you paint [my mistress] on a swing that a bishop would set going. You will place me in such a way that I would be able to see the legs of the lovely girl…’

Other prominent works at the Wallace Collection include: Hals, Laughing Cavalier, Velázquez, The Lady with a Fan and Titian, Perseus and Andromeda.

Visiting: Grant Wood, American Gothic, 1930 (Royal Academy of Arts, 25th Feb – 4th June)

American Gothic is one of those rare paintings, in the company of the Mona Lisa, The Creation of Adam or The Scream, which has taken on a life of its own through cultural appropriation and parody. As of last year, its dour (or perhaps impassive) subjects, their pitchfork and the quaint ‘Dibble House’ backdrop, have left US for the first time. Catch sight of the modern classic at the Royal Academy of Arts America After the Fall: Painting in the 1930s exhibition, running till 4th June.

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American Gothic, Grant Wood

Other prominent works at the America After the Fall exhibition include: Hopper, Gas and New York Movie, O’Keefe, Cow’s Skull with Calico Roses and Benton, Cotton Pickers. If you’re staying in our nearby Knightsbridge residence, it is definitely worth heading there.

From ‘Teatro Canzone’ To Jazz: Milan’s Great Music

Relatively few Italian artists chose to perform in other languages which is why most of them remain unknown abroad. In reality, Italy’s music scene is incredibly wide and diverse. This is no big surprise when you consider the complex historical, artistic and linguistic background of the country, a country always open to cross-cultural influences. There’s much more to offer than first appears. The sweet-sounding Italian language even lends itself to more ‘hardcore’ genres such as metal and hip-hop, not to mention the booming indie scene.

As I have mentioned previously, Milan has grown into the hub of contemporary Italian culture. Thousands of people move here every year to study and work, the city is being blessed with a continuous rise in international tourism, and the local musical production largely reflects the city’s ‘rebirth’. Talent shows and contests, music festivals and live concerts are all important features of the Milanese scene.

Let’s venture into the studios, clubs and pubs, and onto the stages scattered all over Milan to take a closer look at Milan music.

Teatro-canzone: Milan onstage

In the early seventies, a typically Milanese form of art was created out of the fusion of music, poetry and the city’s bustling theatrical environment. I am talking about teatro-canzone. Major figures include Giorgio Gaber and Enzo Jannacci, often mentioned alongside eminent comedians, actors and playwriters, including the late Nobel Literature Prize Dario Fo.

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Giorgio Gaber: teatro-canzone pioneer (credit: alchetron.com)

Teatro-canzone can have many styles: performers are known for their fun anecdotes as well as sophisticated monologues discussing politics, religion, or philosophy. However, the Milanese spirit – witty, wry and somewhat melancholic – remains the main feature of this genre. Though its pioneers have passed away, Milanese theatres make sure to keep the tradition alive. On May 3at 8.30 PM, Piccolo Teatro Grassi (via Rovello 2, right by via Dante) will host Milano per Gaber – Canzone e Teatro Canzone. During this event, Paolo Dal Bon, chairman of the Fondazione Gaber, will discuss the art of teatro canzone with the famous Italian songwriter Ivano Fossati. Tickets are very cheap, starting from 5 €, and can be purchased directly from the theatre’s website. Whilst very  interesting, it is advisable for attendees to be familiar with the Italian language. Recommended if you are staying in our Bandello Luxe residence nearby.

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Piccolo: the hub of the genre in Milan (credit: passipermilano.com)

Modern Milan in Music

Over the last century, Milan has undergone many transformations. Wealthier and more cosmopolitan than Rome, the city has welcomed thousands of newcomers, initially from the southern and the north-eastern regions and then from abroad. Back in the day, ‘adopted’ Milanese and their children would often live in the outskirts and feel alienated from the rapid modernisation of the city. A good example of this is the famous ballad ‘Il ragazzo della via Gluck’ by Adriano Celentano (himself the child of a Southern family) about a narrator lamenting how his rural childhood residence has been taken over by the big city.

Decades later, Italian music has grown more familiar with foreign influences. Society has also changed, even though the contrast between the centre and the suburbs remains sharp. The Milanese hinterland is home to several artists of different genres. Hip-hop plays quite an important role, often breaking into the mainstream scene. Punk-rock and metal have also grown popular since the 1990s, thanks to a number of groups among which we can mention Afterhours and Lacuna Coil.

Of course, this does not mean that a more ‘vernacular’ musical tradition has disappeared. Theatre and cabaret have played a key role in shaping the Milanese music scene. An example of this is Elio e le Storie Tese, a one-of-a-kind group combining hilarious, sometimes nonsensical lyrics with interesting instrumental arrangements and themed videos. They rose to fame on the stage of the Zelig cabaret theatre and they are nothing short of legends to many Milanese and Italian people.

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Pride of Milan: the Elio e le Storie Tese group (credit: sorrisi.com)

Much like the rest of Milan, alternative culture moves at a fast pace. And music does not lag behind. Several important cultural centres have been opened or restored over the past few years, hosting interesting artistic exhibitions, workshops and performances while spreading the word of emerging Italian artists. A major alternative music event in the Milanese Spring is the Mi Ami festival, taking place on 25th-27th May in the eastern area of the city, at Parco dell’Idroscalo (a reservoir area) and at Magnolia, one of the major ARCI clubs in the city’s area. Jazz and world music is also flourishing in Milan: Blue Note (via P. Borsieri, 37) is an interesting location for jazz amateurs in the city.

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Great jazz music can be heard at Blue Note (bluenotemilano.com)

Last, but not least, the club and bar scene in Milan is unrivalled in Italy, making the city the country’s main hub for international artists.  Whether you are more into mainstream or alternative, electronic or acoustic music, or whether you prefer luxurious, hip or informal locations, the list of venues you might like to attend is virtually endless. The centre of town and the Porta Garibaldi – Corso Sempione area, near our Anta Moscova residence, hosts many high-end clubs and bars, whereas a more alternative ‘movida’ resonates around the Navigli area.