10 Masterpieces Of London You Can See In London

Will Noble
By Will Noble Last edited 53 months ago
10 Masterpieces Of London You Can See In London

From Van Goghs to Hamblings, Bacons to Hepworths, London has scores of artistic masterpieces on permanent display. Here though, we focus on 10 permanently displayed masterpieces which are of London itself.

1. View of Deptford Power Station from Greenwich (Queen's House)

Image: Art Fund

Here's a real gem; although depicting big industry and urban life was very much his bag, Lowry painted scant scenes of London. This rare 1959 canvas bristles with all the best quirks of the Stretford-born painter: black, smudgy chimneys, river merging into sky, and an overarching sense of melancholy. See it close to where the scene is set, at the Queen's House in Greenwich.

2. The Meeting Place (St Pancras International)

Image: Ian Muttoo

The detractors can get knotted. Paul Day's towering sculpture of two lovers snogging forms an epic greeting/farewell from the mezzanine of St Pancras station. And while a public display of affection is about as un-Londony you can get, the reliefs around the base of The Meeting Place depict raw, thought-provoking snapshots from city's history. One ingenious touch: first world war soldiers leave for and return to the front, while a contemporary Eurostar pulls up in the background. The detail is such, you feel you could step into this skewered, bronze dimension.

3. Nocturne: Blue and Silver - Chelsea (Tate)

Image: Tate

James Abbott McNeill Whistler was inspired to paint his first London nocturne when returning from a trip by steamer to Westminster, on an August evening in 1871. "I wished to indicate an artistic interest alone, divesting the picture of any outside anecdotal interest," Whistler later said. Serene and beautiful though it is, we don't wholly agree with the sentiment: the fisherman wading out into the foreground adds a touch of mystery to this Thames-scape. Don't worry though, Whistler — we still consider it a masterpiece. See it in the Tate, which also has Nocturne: Blue and Gold - Old Battersea Bridge.

4. The Great Fire of London (Museum of London)

Image: Museum of London

The artist might be unknown, but it's thought they must have witnessed the conflagration unfold; look for the details, like the tiny sparks in the sky — and the fact the vantage point would have actually been somewhere safe to sketch from. Anyhow, this is a breathtaking image of a moment that changed London forever. And the serenity of the moon juxtaposed with the red roaring flames — wow.

5. Harry Beck's Tube Map (Finchley Central)

A map of the tube at a tube station is hardly mind-blowing in itself. But this one — on Finchley Central's southbound platform — is different. It's a replica of Harry Beck's 1933 design, and how we adore everything from the muted colour palette to that swish of the Thames. Beck first devised the map — inspired by electrical circuits — in 1931, but at the time London Transport deemed it too 'revolutionary'. It's rather nice to know that Beck, who lived nearby, would have come here and seen such a map regularly, smiling to himself as commuters studied it. Since then, the tube map has become London's most eyeballed masterpiece.

6. Balls: The Evening Before the Morning After (Tate)

We've all had one of those nights out, where the blurry events have been only partially pieced together in the morning. In 1972, Gilbert and George took to the Balls Brothers Wine Bar in Bethnal Green (sadly no longer with us) to create this sprawling black and white photo montage. Not only is it a dizzying account of London drinking culture, it's an unwitting snapshot of the kind of bar you don't really get anymore around here.

7. Battle of Cable Street mural (Cable Street)

Image: ProphecyBlur

The Battle of Cable Street was one of the East End's proudest moments. When 30,000 Londoners of all races and creeds joined forces to block a demonstration by Oswald Mosley and his cronies, it was one in the eye for fascism and a huge hurrah for diversity. Painted on the side of Cable Street houses by Dave Binnington Savage, Paul Butler, Ray Walker and Desmond Rochfort between 1979 and 1983, this mural is a riot of colour, action and East End humour. Photos, news reports, and interviews with people who were there led to meticulous touches, like a chamberpot being emptied onto the heads of the fascists. The riled Hitler may be artistic licence.

8. Bank of England Rotunda in Ruins (John Soane's Museum)

Image: John Soane's Museum

You maniacs! You blew it up! While many images of future Londons feature flying cars and floating walkways, Joseph Gandy's Bank of England lies in ruins like a Roman temple. Gandy was Soane's draughtsman, and sketched many of the buildings that went on to be built. This painting — imposing by candlelight at John Soane's Museum — takes a different tack, reminding Soane — and Londoners — that everything in our city has a shelf life. Most of Soane's Bank of England was demolished and replaced in the 20th century.

9. Ninth of November, 1888 (Guildhall Art Gallery)

William Logsdail, Ninth of November, 1888 (1890), oil on canvas. Guildhall Art Gallery, City of London.

London is not short of pomp and pageantry paintings. But William Logsdail's depiction of the Lord Mayor's Procession captures the Londoners around it. Two young boys cling to a lamppost for a better view, a mutton-chopped bobby reigns in the crowds, and a dog threatens to get in the way. The slick streets, paired with breaking clouds give the perfect sense of the city's capricious climate. If you think there's something ominous about this painting, this moment frozen in time is about the time when the body of Mary Jane Kelly — likely Jack the Ripper's last victim — was being discovered close by.

10. Gin Lane (Hogarth's House)

A kind of punch containing elements of the above masterpieces, William Hogarth's Gin Lane has debauchery, destruction and dark laughs by the, er, punchbowl — and doesn't that pretty much sum up life in London? A hyperbolic take on the 18th century gin craze (if only slightly), it's widely believed Gin Lane is set in the rookeries of St Giles (that's St George's, Bloomsbury in the background). You'll look at this a hundred times, and still find something different on the 101st. Though there are incarnations of this engraving all over London, Hogarth's House is the best place to see it — nestled among countless other Hogarth works.

We are aware that this list is woefully under-populated by female artists. Please do tell us of any masterpieces of London that are on permanent exhibition in the city, in the comments.

Last Updated 06 April 2017