Unless you're extremely well-travelled, and like popping into embassies and government buildings when you’re on your jollies, chances are you haven't seen much of the 13,500 pieces in the Government Art Collection.
Happily, the Whitechapel Gallery is now showing these works in a public gallery for the first time. The latest programme (the third in a series of five) has been put together by broadcaster and historian Simon Schama and is called Travelling Light.
Travelling Light examines British artists' responses to travel and exploration from the 16th century to the present day. We're a nation of explorers, it seems, eager to go abroad, and when we're there, we bring a distinctly British view to our depictions of people and places overseas.
One highlight of the show is the 1814 portrait of Byron by Homas Phillips, shown. It's usually on display in the British Ambassador's residence in Athens. Themes of adventure and escape are also present in Bloomsbury Group painter Vanessa Bell's portrait called Byzantine Lady, from 1912, and Guzzardi's 1799 portrait of Horatio Nelson.
Look out, too, for Yinka Shonibare's Nelson's Ship in a Bottle, a 2009 model for the current Fourth Plinth Sculpture; and Grayson Perry's characteristically nutty Map of an Englishman (2004), an illustration of an imaginary brain-shaped island, surrounded by seas called Schizophrenia, Delirium and Anorexia Nervosa.
There's also pieces by Tacita Dean, Roger Hilton, Richard Long and Cornelia Parker in Simon Schama's selection.
Entrance is free, and the gallery’s open until 9pm on Thursdays.
Government Art Collection: Selected by Simon Schama: Travelling Light is at the Whitechapel Gallery, 77-82 Whitechapel High Street, London, E1 7QX from 16 December to 26 February next year, in gallery 7. Visit www.whitechapelgallery.org for more details.
We were lucky enough to get a look at the collection on a rare public opening in 2008.