London is renowned across the world for its diverse and vibrant art scene. As a bustling metropolis with a long, rich history spanning centuries, the UK capital has been home to some of history's most influential artists and art movements. I
We'll take a whistle-stop tour through some of the most popular art styles you're likely to encounter across London's galleries, museums and streets.
No list of iconic London art styles would be complete without a mention of Pop Art. Emerging in the UK in the 1950s before exploding in popularity in the 1960s, Pop Art took inspiration from popular and commercial culture, including advertising, product packaging and comic books. Bold, colourful and larger-than-life, Pop Art celebrated ordinary, everyday imagery in an exuberant, tongue-in-cheek way.
One of the movement's leading lights was David Hockney, the Bradford-born artist famous for his swimming pool paintings depicting the leisure culture of 1960s Los Angeles. Many of Hockney's most recognisable Pop Art creations can be found in London's Tate Britain gallery. Other famous British Pop Art pioneers include Richard Hamilton and Peter Blake, whose collage cover art adorns The Beatles' 1967 album Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. You can read more here about pop art.
Perhaps the archetypal modern London art form is street art. Brimming with creative energy and youthful irreverence, the city's streets have long provided a vast urban canvas for graffiti artists and mural painters to express themselves.
Internationally renowned street artists like Banksy have helped elevate urban, guerrilla-style art from an illicit underground pursuit to a respected art form exhibited in prestigious galleries. Banksy's thought-provoking stencils combining dark humour with political commentary can be spotted on walls across the capital.
Other celebrated London street artists include Ben Eine, whose playful, colourful typography adorns East End shop shutters, and Stik, whose simple stick figure designs spread poignant messages about poverty, gentrification and the human condition.
The best places to spot street art in London are urban neighbourhoods like Shoreditch, Camden and Brixton, where the gritty, dynamic energy of the city streets inspires artists' creativity. Street art tours can take you deep into these neighbourhoods to uncover hidden gems.
Some of London's street art treasures have sadly disappeared as walls are whitewashed or built over. Sites like Shoreditch's Brick Lane and Leake Street under Waterloo Station have seen iconic murals painted over, highlighting street art's ephemeral nature. But fresh creations continue to appear, ensuring London's streets remain a living exhibit of artistic expression.
London has a fine tradition of portraiture stretching back centuries, depicting the great and good of British society. From royal family members to cultural icons, many of history's most important figures have sat for portraits in London artists' studios.
In the 16th and 17th centuries, Hans Holbein and Sir Anthony van Dyck established themselves as eminent court painters charged with capturing the likenesses of King Henry VIII and Charles I, respectively. Van Dyck's flattering portraits helped shape the image of British aristocracy for generations to come.
Later, portraitists like Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough helped found the Royal Academy of Arts in 1768, cementing London's reputation as a hub of portraiture expertise. Gainsborough's elegant portraits of society figures helped him rival Reynolds as Britain's top portrait artist.
Today, many classic portraits can be viewed at London's National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery, where you can see depictions of everyone from Shakespeare to the Beatles rendered in oils on canvas. The BP Portrait Award at the National Portrait Gallery showcases new works by contemporary artists.
Fast forward to the 20th and 21st centuries, and London continues to lead the way in pioneering artistic movements. Key modern art institutions like the Tate Modern provide insight into the development of modernism, showcasing major artists like Picasso, Matisse and Salvador Dali whose works embody artistic revolution and the avant-garde spirit.
The Tate Modern's vast Turbine Hall displays ambitious contemporary installations, while its permanent collection traces modern masterpieces from the impressionists through to pop art, minimalism and beyond.
When it comes to contemporary art, London's vibrant gallery scene, centred around areas like Mayfair and Shoreditch, offers a vital platform for up-and-coming artists to exhibit. Exciting new talent continues to emerge from the capital's art schools, ensuring that London remains at the cutting edge of contemporary art.
Internationally renowned venues like the Serpentine Galleries showcase groundbreaking work across media like sculpture, painting, performance and video art. Here, you can discover the Young British Artists who shook up the 1990s art world, trace the development of major contemporary movements, and get a feel for what's setting the cultural agenda today.
As well as in traditional galleries, London's art heritage can be discovered in the public spaces that make up the fabric of the city. From historical statues and monuments dotted across the capital to modern public commissions, art in London extends beyond museum walls.
Timeless sculptures like Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square and mounted monarchs in Parliament Square reflect the city's imperial history and heritage. More recent additions include the Fourth Plinth commissions in Trafalgar Square, where contemporary artists create politically charged works.
Elsewhere, art incorporated into everyday environments aims to humanise London's urban landscape. Cutting-edge architectural icons like the Tate Modern and the Gherkin showcase innovative design, while colourful murals and mosaics bring visual flair to public spaces. Public art re-imagines the possibilities of the urban realm.
The Southbank Centre offers perhaps the best snapshot of London's public art, with photogenic street performers vying for space amid iconic brutalist structures. This bustling riverside cultural hub perfectly captures the city's creative energy.
From classic portraiture to rebellious graffiti, London's art scene perfectly encapsulates the city's rich diversity and constant reinvention. The breadth of artistic styles on offer provides endless inspiration and fascination for locals and visitors alike. Who knows - a wander through London's galleries or streets might just introduce you to your new favourite artist!
With such a stellar range of art, past and present, on display, London proudly cements its reputation as one of the world's great artistic cities. For art lovers, a trip to the UK capital promises a richly rewarding experience.