It’s always wise to have some back up plans for your weekend or holiday at the British seaside. Consult our guide to the best British seaside art galleries for a nice diversion from the amusement arcades, the donkey rides and the British weather this summer…
Jerwood Art Gallery
Amid the redolent whiff of doughnuts, candy floss and fish and chips sits the Jerwood Gallery; right in the heart of Hastings’ Old Town. Its architecture mimics the famous fishermen’s sheds nearby, but inside the cool and spacious galleries accommodate the Jerwood’s collection of modern and contemporary art.
As well as the ever-growing permanent collection, which includes the likes of LS Lowry, Barbara Hepworth and John Pier, the gallery also hosts an impressive roster of temporary exhibitions – with the accent on painting, while the cafe offers a beautiful view across the beach and the channel.
Russell-Cotes Art Gallery
Bournemouth has its fair share of striking architectural gems, ranging from Victorian to Art Deco. So it probably comes as no surprise to find one of the most picturesque art galleries in the UK here too.
The Russell-Cotes is renowned for its Victorian art collection, but the building that houses it – East Cliff Hall – is equally revered. The eccentric building, which mixes Moorish, Japanese and French architectural features, was built to house the artworks Sir Merton and Lady Russell-Cotes collected on their travels around the world. The stunning architecture, lavish interiors and vast art collection earns this gallery the often overused epithet “best kept secret”.
De La Warr Pavilion
Bexhill may not be the brashest or busiest of traditional seaside destinations but it boasts a 1930s Pavilion that is one of the first, and most important, major Modernist buildings in the UK.
The De La Warr Pavilion today is a lively contemporary art venue, blending bold music with an exciting programme of modern and contemporary art exhibitions, featuring works by the likes of Joseph Beuys, Jeremy Deller, John Cage and Ben Nicholson, to name but a few. The food is not bad either. Little wonder it’s at the forefront of the town’s ambitious seafront redevelopment.
The largest seaside resort in Wales boasts one of the largest contemporary art spaces in the country. Behind a traditional Edwardian façade in the centre of the beautiful seaside town of Llandudno, is MOSTYN, the foremost contemporary art space in Wales. Traditional spaces merged with stunning new architecture house six galleries that present an ambitious series of exhibitions featuring the best of Welsh and international talent.
The architecture’s not bad either – with a cool contemporary feel lurking behind a striking period terracotta façade.
Aberystwyth Arts Centre
The bustling seaside town of Aberystwyth has a lot going for it – including a university, the National Library of Wales and Wales’ largest arts centre.
Sited at the heart of the Aberystwyth University campus, Aberystwyth Arts Centre is recognised as a national flagship for the arts, producing and presenting work across all art forms. The busy programme of films, dance, comedy and music also features a contemporary art strand which sees up to four exhibitions showing at any one time.
The Grundy Art Gallery
As the biggest and brashest of our seaside resorts, Blackpool might not spring to mind as a place for contemporary art. But just a few strides away from the lights, the fish and chips and the hordes of holidaymakers you will find one of the UK’s coolest contemporary art spaces.
The Grundy Art Gallery is a real surprise – for over 100 years this space has been at the heart of the town’s creative and cultural heritage. Now home to a series of contemporary visual art exhibitions, the gallery manages to offer something different while often referencing Blackpool’s history and contemporary culture.
Much has been said about the declining fortunes – and the efforts to revive them – at one of our most famous seaside towns, but visitors to Margate can’t fail to be impressed by the contemporary art gallery that now sits on the seafront.
Part of the town’s impressive regeneration strategy, Turner Contemporary is a David Chipperfield designed monument to art and light that boasts a rolling programme of exhibitions. The world-class gallery showcases both contemporary and historical art, with one or two Turner masterpieces thrown into the mix for good measure.
In the 20th century artists flocked to the beautiful Cornish town of St Ives, in search of the special quality of light the town is said to possess. Leading sculptor Barbara Hepworth was one of the most celebrated artists to move to St Ives and, following her wish to establish her former home and studio as a museum of her work, the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden was created as a fantastic celebration of one of Britain’s most important 20th century artists.
Her sculptures in bronze, stone and wood are displayed in the sculpture garden, while Trewyn Studio houses the artist’s paintings, drawings and archive material.
Just a few minutes’ walk away overlooking Porthmeor beach sits Tate St Ives, founded in response to the incredible volume and quality of work created by the local artists. The gallery has a programme of major exhibitions from internationally-acclaimed artists, as well as Tate’s collection of St Ives art.
Towner Art Gallery
Towner is a bright and airy contemporary art space, a mere stone’s throw from one of our more traditional and pleasantly sedate seafronts.
The gallery’s internationally-renowned collection has the largest and most important body of work by local artist and designer Eric Ravilious, who is celebrated in a dedicated permanent gallery within the building. Mixing cutting edge exhibitions with a changing programme which explores and reinterprets its collection, it makes for a surprising and refreshing addition to the resolutely genteel seaside town.
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Focal Point and Beecroft Art Gallery
Southend-on-Sea, the traditional seaside town boasts two galleries: Focal Point provides the cutting edge contemporary angle with the accent on lens-based media and experimentation while their brand new events space Twenty One boasts a collection of local art.
At Beecroft Art Gallery at the Westcliffe-on-Sea end of town you will find a fine old Edwardian building with estuary views and a varied collection ranging from 17th century Dutch paintings to contemporary works. The temporary exhibition programme is pretty lively too.
Fabrica and Brighton Museum and Art Gallery
As well as accommodating the needs of hedonistic revellers, Brighton is also home to hundreds of contemporary artists and a vibrant art scene.
Fabrica, a de-consecrated Regency church turned gallery in the centre of town, commissions contemporary art installations specific to the gallery space, resulting in three unique main shows each year. Past site-specific artworks have included Marcus Coates’ Dawn Chorus and Simon Faithfull’s REEF.
Brighton Museum and Art Gallery’s permanent galleries showcases the museum’s 20th century art and design, and fine art collections, it also hosts a programme of exhibitions throughout the year.
Scarborough Art Gallery
Scarborough Art Gallery sits within the town’s beautiful Crescent Gardens. It is a fitting place for an art collection taking in everything from dramatic nautical paintings to 20th century prints by the likes of Frank Brangwyn and John Piper.
The gallery has a lively and eclectic exhibition programme, which brings in work by local, national and international artists, as well as touring shows.
The Naze Tower
Amid the genteel charms of Walton-on-the-Naze, a pretty little seaside town, sits the imposing Naze Tower. Built in the 18th century as a navigation tower to aid shipping, the 86ft octagonal tower was the precursor to the modern lighthouse, and is the only one of its kind.
The tower now has a local history museum and houses an art gallery. The artwork inside isn’t bad either – mainly locally sourced paintings, etchings, linocuts and jewellery displayed across four of the tower’s six floors. It’s a good place to pick up a painting by East Anglian based artists on your way up to the viewing platform on the roof, to take in the splendid panoramic views and the fresh sea air.
Falmouth Art Gallery
The buzzing seaside college town of Falmouth, with its impressive six beaches, boasts an art gallery with a collection encompassing Victorian masters, British Impressionism, maritime art and contemporary painters and printmakers, as well as a lively temporary exhibition programme.
Falmouth has a unique claim to fame as the home to many automata makers, the joyful moving wooden scenes produced by Peter Markey – the father of Falmouth automata – and his students, in this collection are a delightful feature within the gallery.
Newlyn Art Gallery & The Exchange
Newlyn and Penzance
Split across two sites in the seaside towns of Newlyn and Penzance, Newlyn Art Gallery & The Exchange presents varied contemporary art by regional, national and international artists.
Newlyn Art Gallery has been serving contemporary art to the people of west Cornwall for over 120 years, established to showcase and support the Newlyn School artists – a local plein air landscape painting colony.
The art gallery expanded in 2007 and opened The Exchange in the town’s old telephone exchange building. The industrial setting offered a perfect exhibition space, which now welcomes world-renowned art to Cornwall.
Pier Arts Centre
Pier Arts Centre houses a smaller, but very significant collection of 20th century modernist art, amassed by author and philanthropist Margaret Gardiner. A patron of artists, Gardiner was instrumental in the success of the modernist movement, spending her time supporting and championing her artist friends, including the pioneering modernist architect Berthold Lubetkin, the Cornish artist Peter Lanyon, and of course Barbara Hepworth, the celebrated British sculptor with whom she had a long friendship.
Gardiner gifted her outstanding collection, which charts the development of British modernism and now comprises over 180 pieces including contemporary work, to the people of Orkney in 1979.
Situated in Stromess, on Mainland Orkney, the bright and airy gallery sits on the harbour edge, overlooking the passing fishing boats and gulls. Like St Ives, the Orkney Islands have served as an inspirational place for many British artists. Today, the gallery harnesses this inspiration to produce a year-round programme of contemporary and 20th century art exhibitions.