The best art exhibitions in London in 2019 2

Spring brings a brand new season of exhibitions to the capital – find out what springtime delights London has on offer with our guide to the best exhibitions in London in 2019. Updated March.

Barbican – Bethlem Museum of the Mind – British Library – British Museum


Springtime at the Barbican ushers in AI: More than Human (May 16 – August 26), which takes over the whole centre in a highly interactive exhibition challenging you to explore the boundaries between man and machine. The exhibition brings together a survey of developments in AI and new artist commissions which use artificial intelligence as both inspiration and medium.

abract artwork in red and pink

Lee Krasner, Icarus, 1964. Thomson Family Collection, New York City. © The Pollock-Krasner Foundation, courtesy Kasmin Gallery, New York. Photo: Diego Flores.

Lee Krasner: Living Colour (May 30 – September 1) reveals the work of Abstract Expressionist Lee Krasner, whose remarkable work has been all but overshadowed by that of her husband, Jackson Pollock. With almost 100 works on show, including highly-acclaimed pieces from the 1940s, this is the first major show of her work in Europe for more than 50 years.

poster showing illustration of black cat sitting on red surface with handwritten black script

Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen, ‘Réouverture du Cabaret du Chat Noir (Reopening of the Chat Noir Cabaret)’, 1896. Lithograph. Credit: © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Later in the year Into the Night: Cabaret & Clubs in Modern Art (October 4 – January 19 2020) is a colourful and lively celebration of some of the world’s most iconic cabarets, clubs and cafés, as depicted by pioneering modern artists of the 1880s to 1960s. The exhibition reveals the exciting history of the famous spaces which nurtured and encouraged avant-garde performers and artists to push the boundaries of artistic expression.


Bethlem Museum of the Mind

In the rounds of the famous psychiatric hospital, Bethlem Museum of the Mind opens the doors of perception with Brilliant Visions: Mescaline, Art Psychiatry (May 1 – August 31). The exhibition examines a group of Surrealist artists who, in the 1930s, painted under the influence of psychosis-inducing drug mescaline to aid the understanding of patients at the nearby Maudsley Hospital and their own psychoses. These Guttman-Maclay experiments were used as illustrations of psychopathic states and were used to identify and classify mental illnesses.


British Library

At the British Library, The New Londoners (until July 7) presents photographs from photographer Chris Steel-Perkins’ fascinating project to photograph families originating from every country in the world in their own London homes. With almost 200 countries recognised by the UN, Steel-Perkins’ ambitious project creates ‘a record of new London’ and celebrates the rich cultural tapestry that comprises the capital.

Imaginary Cities (April 5 – July 14) is a new body of work by artist in residence Michael Takeo Magruder, who has created four technology-based art installations reminiscent of fantastical cityscapes, using a combination of contemporary digital technologies and traditional analogue processes. The resulting images, created algorithmically, highlight the position of the library as both an archive and a method for creative potential.

Leonardo da Vinci: A Mind in Motion (June 7 – September 8) brings together selected pages from three of the Renaissance polymath’s incredible notebooks, the Codex Arundel, Codex Forster and Codex Leicester. The pages exemplify da Vinci’s talent for describing, depicting and understanding natural phenomena.


British Museum

black and white illustration of manga character is fur and carrying knife

Noda Satoru, Golden Kamuy, 2014 onwards. © Satoru Noda /SHUEISHA

Over at the British Museum, Manga (May 23 – August 26) explores the Japanese medium of manga – the visual narrative art form where art and storytelling collide – which has become a global phenomenon. The immersive exhibition showcases original manga from Japan and uncovers its influence across the world.

Reimagining Captain Cook (until August 4) commemorates 250 years since Captain James Cook left England on the first of three expeditions to the Pacific Ocean. Displaying contemporary artworks by Pacific artists alongside objects collected from the voyages, the display explores the debate around Cook’s legacy and the lasting impact of these expeditions on the islands Cook visited.

The World Exists To Be Put On A Postcard: artists’ postcards from 1960 to now (until August 4) is the first major museum display of artists’ postcards, a medium which was created to share simple greetings and musings, but was adopted by artists as a method for highlighting important social and political issues. The display contains examples from a recently-gifted collection of 300 postcards addressing a wide range of issues, from feminism to anti-war protest and the fight against aids.

illustration in brown ink on paper of young woman sleeping

Rembrandt van Rijn, 1606 – 1669. Young woman sleeping (Hendrickje Stoffels?), brush and brown wash, around 1654. © the Trustees of the British Museum

To mark the 350th anniversary of the artist’s death Rembrandt: thinking on paper (until August 4) brings together a selection of the Old Master’s works on paper, which were often made on his own initiative, unlike his paintings. The display includes 65 self-portraits, portraits, landscapes and biblical scenes, which highlight Rembrandt’s technical ingenuity and reveal a more personal side to his outstanding work.

Camden Arts Centre – Chisenhale Gallery – Design Museum – Dulwich Picture Gallery

Camden Arts Centre

At Camden Arts Centre a new installation created especially for the space explores the history of methods of human communication through the ancient and enduring art of ceramics. Jonathan Baldock: Facecrime (April 12 – June 23) sees the artist fill the space with teetering clay columns which create a darkly humorous world inspired by ancient cuneiform tablets and emoji.

Alongside, A Tale of Mother’s Bones: Grace Pailthorpe, Reuben Mednikoff and the Birth of Psychorealism (April 12 – June 23) tells the story of a remarkable collaboration between surgeon Dr Grace Pailthorpe and artist Reuben Medninkoff. Together they coined the term ‘psychorealism’ and set about creating experimental surrealist paintings and drawings which they then subjected to rigorous psychoanalytic interpretation.


Chisenhale Gallery

artwork of collaged newspaper

Mandy El-Sayegh, Cite Your Sources (2019). Commissioned and produced by Chisenhale Gallery, London.

In the East End, Chisenhale Gallery has an exhibition of work by Malaysian-born London-based artist Mandy El-Sayegh – her first solo exhibition in an institution. The installation, Cite Your Sources (April 12 – June 9), explores the process of constructing meaning through the production and circulation of images and materials.

photograph of half-eaten sandwich on large pile of money, with oyster card to the side

Ima-Abasi Okon, Production image (2019). Commissioned and produced by Chisenhale Gallery. Courtesy the artist and artist’s brother.

Following this is the first solo exhibition of sculptor and sound and video artist Ima-Abasi Okon (June 28 – September 1), who produces works exploring the historical and political charge of materials. Okon repurposes objects to challenge the notion of subjectivity, productivity and excess.


Design Museum

On Kensington High Street the Design Museum celebrates groundbreaking work by British-Ghanaian architect Sir David Adjaye OBE, whose monuments and memorials are used as storytelling devices. David Adjaye: Making Memory (until May 5) focuses on seven of Adjaye’s landmark structures, including the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture and the UK National Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre, and explores how he uses form to reveal the history and stories around human lives.

still from black and white film showing large round table with people sat around, with world maps on screens in the background

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb,directed by Stanley Kubrick (1963-64; GB/United States).The Conference table in the War Room.© Sony/Columbia Pictures Industries Inc.

The museum’s blockbuster show in 2019 celebrates the cinematic giant that is Stanley Kubrick. Stanley Kubrick: The Exhibition (April 26 – September 17) offers a unique insight into the 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Shining and A Clockwork Orange director, revealing props, costumes, models and more from Kubrick’s own vast archive. The exhibition pays particular attention to Kubrick’s relationship with London as both a filming location and source of inspiration.

Rounding off the year, Mars (October 16 – March 1 2020) is an immersive exhibition exploring how we can arrive, survive and thrive on the red planet. The exhibition takes an in-depth look at how every detail in this endeavour has to be designed, presenting commissions and collaborations by contemporary designers responding to different potential scenarios.


Dulwich Picture Gallery

a painting of a street with wooden house and church covered in thick snow

Harald Sohlberg, Street in Røros, 1902, The National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design, Norway.

In picturesque leafy Dulwich the Dulwich Picture Gallery reveals the work of lesser-known Norwegian Painter, Harald Sohlberg. In Harald Sohlberg: Painting Norway (until June 2) a selection of the artist’s atmospheric and otherworldly landscapes are on show to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the his birth. The show uncovers the artist who, though a household name in his native Norway, never enjoyed the same acclaim in the rest of Europe.

Alongside, Breathing Yellow: And then the world changed colour (until June 2) is a new installation by artist Mariele Neudecker, commissioned for Dulwich Picture Gallery as part of Harald Sohlberg exhibition. The piece is one of Neudecker’s tank installations, which is inspired by the dense birch trees of Norway’s forests, and changes throughout the day based on the ambient light conditions.

pink in orange, pink and mint green showing three nude women posing

Leonard Beaumont, Nymphs,Errant, 1934. Photo: Museums Sheffield / ©The Estate of Leonard Beaumont

Following this, Cutting Edge: Modern British Printing (June 19 – September 8) focuses on a group of interwar artists who played a leading role in the modern art world, all for excelling in the medium of printmaking and, especially, linocut. The exhibition looks at Claude Flight and his students, including Sybil Andrews, Cyril Power, Lill Tschudi, William Greengrass, Leonard Beaumont and Eileen Mayo and examines their bold use of colour and line which went on to define the medium of linocut.

Unlocking Paintings: Artists in Amsterdam (August 6 – October 21) is a display exploring the personal stories of artists in Amsterdam, asking why artists were drawn to the city which underwent a period of rapid growth in the 17th century.

dark oil painting showing a man in white cloak being questioned by a woman, with two men by her side. In the corner some other figures can be faintly seen

Rembrandt van Rijn, The Denial of St Peter, 1660. © The Rijksmuseum

Finishing off the year, Rembrandt’s Light (October 4 – February 2 2020) is part of the celebrations taking place throughout Europe to mark the 350th anniversary of the incomparable Dutch Master’s death. The show brings together a selection of important works from Rembrandt’s greatest years, 1639 – 1658. 35 paintings, drawings and etchings are on display arranged thematically in a dramatically-lit exhibition which aims to refresh the way we look at Rembrandt’s masterful artworks.


Estorick Collection – Fashion and Textile Museum – Freud Museum – Gasworks

Estorick Collection

pencil drawing showing young woman wearing scarf with buildings in the background

Umberto Boccioni, Controluce, 1910. © Collezione Ramo, Milan

In Islington at the Estorick Collection – home of Italian art in London –Who’s Afraid of Drawing? Works on Paper from the Ramo Collection (April 17 – June 23) draws on the vast archive of Milan’s Ramo Collection, which comprises nearly 600 works on paper by some of the most important 20th century artists in Italy. The exhibition emphasises the validity of drawing as an artform in itself, rather than solely a preparatory discipline.

Paolo Scheggi: In Depth (July 3 – September 15) is a major exhibition presenting a comprehensive history of neo-avant garde artist Paolo Scheggi. A key figure in the Spatialism movement of the 1960s, Scheggi’s famous works formed layered punctured canvasses are on show alongside his lesser known work in the theatre and fashion worlds.


Fashion and Textile Museum

black and white photograph of smiling woman with outstretched arms standing outside a shop selling 60s clothes

Mary Quant outside her shop Bazaar on the Kings Road, 1960s. Vintage Publicity Photograph, Courtesy of a Private Collection.

Over at the Fashion and Textile Museum, Swinging London: A Lifestyle Revolution / Terence Conran – Mary Quant (until June 2) tells the story of the revolution seen in the art and design world in 1952 – 1977. The exhibition focuses on two key figures in this movement, Mary Quant and Terence Conran, and features rare and early examples of their work as well as the avant-garde artists, architects, designers and photographers who worked alongside them.

Alongside, two complementary displays Will You Be My Valentine? Works by Natalie Gibson and Elizabeth Suter: Sharp Lines and Swift Sketches (both until June 2) look at two contemporaries of Conran and Quant – print designer Natalie Gibson and fashion journalist and illustrator Elizabeth Suter.

photograph of piece of dark red fabric showing figure in white with arms and legs outstretched and four birds

Ocucaje Shirt with Figure, Paracas Culture. 200 BC – 300 AD. Courtesy of Paul Hughes Textiles.

Following this, Weavers of the Clouds: Textile Arts of Peru (June 21 – September 8) explores the clothing designs of Peru and takes a look at how designers around the world have been inspired and influenced by traditional Peruvian dress. The exhibition highlights both historic and contemporary Peruvian textiles and garments and, through photographs, illustrations and paintings dating from pre-Hispanic to present day, explores the history and future of Peruvian arts.

To mark 50 years of the museum founder’s own fashion label, Zandra Rhodes: Fifty Years of Fabulous (September 27 – January 26 2020) celebrates the acclaimed British designer who was the brains behind one of the most recognisable fashion labels in London. Launched in 1969, Zandra Rhodes’ Pop Art infused designs and bold take on structure is explored through 100 key looks and 50 original textiles.


Freud Museum

image of art installation showing colourful fabric shapes suspended

Detail from ‘World Play’ installation, from Wunderblock, Emma Smith 2019. Copyright the artist.

The Freud Museum London has Wunderblock (until May 26), an exhibition of work by artist Emma Smith, exploring the fascination with the human mind which emerged after the Second World War. Smith draws on research uncovering the development of child psychoanalysis and psychiatry to explore the hidden history of the child’s influence on the adult world.

abstract artwork showing image of shell, sudoku puzzle, figurines and lightbulb

Simon Moretti for Stuart Morgan, 2015-2019. Screen print, 100 x 76 cm. © Simon Moretti

Following this, The Enigma of the Hour: 100 Years of Psychoanalytic Thought (June 6 – August 4) marks the centenary of The International Journal of Psychoanalysis, founded in 1920 by Ernest Jones and Sigmund Freud. The exhibition combines archival material from the inception of the journal, alongside work by 20th century and contemporary artists exploring the ideas and themes which are ever present in both psychoanalysis and art, including the unconscious, metaphor and dreams.



film still showing woman in hammock holding arm

Pedro Neves Marques, A Mordida (The Bite), 2018. Film Still. Courtesy of the artist.

Over at Gasworks, New York artist Pedro Neves Marques (April 11 – June 23) presents a solo exhibition of work tracing the history of colonialism while also exploring themes of science, technology and politics. For his first solo exhibition in the UK, Neves Marques exhibits a body of work responding to a genetically-modified mosquito factory against the backdrop of the Zika virus epidemic.

The first UK solo exhibition by Patricia Domínguez (July 4 – September 8) follows, which includes a major new commission by the Chilean installation artist. In her show, Domínguez presents her ongoing work on ethnobotany and shamanistic processes in a multimedia installation combining sculpture and video, and tracing the colonial circulations of seeds and data in a hyperconnected society.

To round off the year, the gallery presents the first institutional solo exhibition by Kudzanai-Violet Hwami (September 19 – December 15), a London-based artist born in Zimbabwe and raised in South Africa.  In her vividly colourful paintings, Hwami uses her own experience of geographical displacement to address the representation of the black body, challenging the conditions of representation and raising questions about gender, sexuality, ancestry and spirituality.


Guildhall Art Gallery – Hayward Gallery – Heath Robinson Museum – Horniman Museum

Guildhall Art Gallery

a painting of a group of grumpy looking young schoolchildren sitting together on a bench

The Frown, Thomas Webster, 1842. Oil on panel. Guildhall Art Gallery, City of London

Guildhall Art Gallery’s Seen and Heard: Victorian Children in the Frame (until May 2019) documents, through rarely-seen works from the gallery’s collection, the age when children stopped being seen as small adults and were given the opportunity to explore, learn and play. The exhibition offers a welcome escape into childhood innocence and wonder.


Hayward Gallery

A must for photography fans is diane arbus: in the beginning (until May 6) at the Hayward Gallery, which explores the first seven years of the portraitist’s career, mostly centred in New York City. Drawing both fierce criticism and resonant acclaim for her depictions of circus performers, eccentrics, transgender people and children, Arbus’s early works are some of her most intimate and surprising. The exhibition features more than 100 photographs from this seminal period, including many never exhibited before in the UK.

Alongside, the first UK survey exhibition of artist Kader Attia brings together playful and thought-provoking work from the past 20 years. Kader Attia: The Museum of Emotion (until May 6) brings together the artist’s work exploring Western colonialism and how it shapes our views on other world cultures.

photograph of man covered in pieces of gold leaf against a black background

LUCIANO CASTELLI, Goldene Schallplatte 4, 1974. 100 / 68 cm (Photo taken with selftimer). Digital-C-Print ( Digitale Lambda Belichtung auf Fuji-Cyistal-Archive-Paper)
© luciano castelli
(Part of Hayward Gallery’s Kiss My Genders exhibition 12 June – 8 September)

In Kiss My Genders (June 12 – September 8) the work of 30 international artists is brought together for a group show challenging the binary notion of gender. Featuring works from the 60s to today, the exhibition includes paintings, immersive installations, sculpture, text, photography and film from artists who explore and engage with different identities across the spectrum of gender identity and expression.

painting showing black and white checkerboard design which grows narrower towards the right-hand side of centre, giving the effect that the design is curving

Bridget Riley, Movement in Squares, 1961. Synthetic emulsion on board, 123.2 x 121.2 cm. © Bridget Riley 2018. All rights reserved.

Taking us into the new year is a major retrospective dedicated to the work of Bridget Riley (October 23 – January 26 2020), the acclaimed British artist whose works are synonymous with the op art movement which gained traction in the 1960s. The exhibition takes a close look at Riley’s early works, focusing on the beginnings of her foray into perceptual paintings and tracing pivotal points in her career. Developed in close collaboration with the artist, the show also features preparatory material and recent works.


Heath Robinson Museum

illustration depicting floating figure embracing a head, with water and flower design below

Aubrey Beardsley, ‘The Climax’ from Salome (1894)

In Pinner, at the Heath Robinson Museum, The Beardsley Generation (until May 19) focuses on the early days of process engraving and explores the impact this new photographic method had on the art world. The exhibition highlights a new generation of artists which included Aubrey Beardsley, Charles Ricketts and the Robinson brothers, and looks at how they rejected the dull realism captured by artists before them in search for an emotional intensity.

Closely following this, Tim Lewis: Automata (May 25 – September 1) presents the ingenious automata creations of artist Tim Lewis, whose large-scale mechanical marvels include a variety of machines which respond to their environment. The pieces on show include colourful stroboscopic spinning artworks, sinister mechanical rabbits and chairs walking with crutches.


Horniman Museum

a photo of a white algae against a blue background

Photographs of British Algae by Anna Atkins. Image courtesy of the Horniman Museum and Gardens.

At Forest Hill’s Horniman Museum The Lore of the Land (until April 28 2019) is an immersive exhibition developed by Serena Korda in the museum’s brand-new arts space, examining the human relationship with the natural world. The multi-sensory installation includes ceramic artworks which diffuse scents inspired by the museum’s garden, a site-specific soundscape and 100 objects from the anthropology collection. Not to be missed are the over 150-year-old cyanotypes of British algae produced by Anna Atkins, the first recognised female photographer.


House of Illustration – Jewish Museum London – London Transport Museum – National Army Museum

House of Illustration

typographical artwork in red white and blue with variations on the words 'American', 'assassination', 'vietnam', 'violence' and 'why not'

Corita Kent, american sampler, 1969. With permission of Corita Art Center, photograph by Arthur Evans

The House of Illustration has Corita Kent: Power Up (until May 12), the biggest ever show in the UK of work by British pop artist, social activist and nun Corita Kent. The exhibition features Kent’s bold, controversial and typographical prints which combine public protest with spiritual reflection.

The final exhibition by the gallery’s Illustrator in Residence YiMiao Shih (March 29 – July 14) opens in the spring. YiMiao Shih has spent 6 months gathering opinions on Brexit and for her final show she will be satirising the public’s reaction to the current political landscape through illustrative embroidery woven into a contemporary ‘epic’.

Later in the year, Posy Simmonds: A Retrospective (May 24 – September 15) is the first UK retrospective of work by the celebrated comic artist whose career spans 50 years. The creator of Tamara Drewe, which was made into a film adaptation in 2010, the first British graphic novel True Love and a cartoon strip featured in the Guardian, Simmonds’ exhibition features original and previously unseen pages while offering a sneak peek at her new 2018 book, Cassandra Darke.

Marie Neurath: Picturing Science (July 19 – November 3) takes a look at the groundbreaking design produced by Marie Neurath and her team, who developed the Isotype method of communicating ideas and statistics through pictures. Between 1944 and 1971 Neurath and her team produced more than 80 books for children, which explained the wonders of the scientific world through infographics and illustrated diagrams.

In Autumn, Designed in Cuba: Cold War Graphics (September 27 – January 19 2020) brings together an unprecedented collection of Cuban propaganda posters and magazines from the Cold War era. The exhibition features provocative pieces by the likes of Alfredo Rostgaard, Helena Serrano and Emory Douglas whose designs for political persuasion championed Cuba’s revolutionary message.

The infographics produced by pioneering American sociologist and activist W.E.B. Du Bois go on display at the end of the year. W.E.B. Du Bois: Activism by Numbers (November 8 – March 1 2020) explores how his modern interpretations of statistics gathered from research on the achievement of African Americans in 1900 present the inequalities experienced by the black population, and communicated these findings to an international audience.


Jewish Museum London

image of figurine showing jewish man holding real coin

Jewish figurine, Poland, 2018. © Jewish Museum London

At the Jewish Museum London, Jews, Money, Myth (until July 7) is a major exhibition exploring the relationship between Jews and money over the period of 2000 years. The show examines ideas, myths and stereotypes by bringing together art, film, literature and cultural ephemera, including artworks by Rembrandt, Jeremy Deller and Doug Fishbone.

Where the Wild things Are: The Art of Maurice Sendak (July 25 – November 10) is a delightful family-friendly foray into the otherworldly artwork of New York based illustrator Maurice Sendak, creator of the beloved children’s book Where the Wild Things Are. The playful exhibition features 50 of Sendak’s works including original artworks from the ‘wild things’ book, film and opera.


London Transport Museum

Over in Covent Garden the London Transport Museum has The Poster Prize for Illustration 2019: London Stories (until July 14). The exhibition showcases the top 100 entries to the Poster Prize for Illustration which for 2019 has invited illustrators to capture a familiar or lesser-known narrative in a single image. These shortlisted artists have all captured an aspect of London – either historical or contemporary.


National Army Museum

a poster featuring a jaunty character walking through a red doorway

‘Get in Shape for Civvy Street Civil Resettlement Units’, 1945

At the National Army Museum, The art of persuasion: Wartime posters by Abram Games (April 6 – November 24) examines the life and work of Abram Games, an iconic British graphic designer born to Jewish émigré parents the day after the outbreak of World War One. Games served in the British Army in World War Two before being appointed as an official war poster artist, where he began to produce some of his iconic poster designs. The exhibition focuses on his work in recruiting new soldiers, and encouraging support for the war effort from civilians.


National Gallery – National Portrait Gallery – Natural History Museum – P21 Gallery

National Gallery

At the National Gallery, Boilly: Scenes from Parisian Life (until May 19) brings to life the turbulent era of revolutionary Paris through the work of painter and draftsman Louis-Leopold Boilly. Living through the French Revolution, the rise and fall of Napoleon and the Restoration of the French Monarchy, Boilly’s viewpoint at the heart of a politically uncertain Paris led to some daring and wry paintings.

painting showing young man by the sea carrying a basket of fish

Joaquín Sorolla, Young Fisherman, Valencia, 1904. Private Collection. © Photo: Laura Cohen

In Sorolla: Spanish Master of Light (until July 7) more than 60 paintings by the celebrated Spanish painter Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida come together to form the most complete exhibition of his work outside Spain. The exhibition is a rare opportunity to see Sorolla’s masterful control of light in his sumptuous seascapes, portraits and landscapes.

In Sea Star: Sean Scully at the National Gallery (April 13 – August 11) two-time Turner Prize nominee Sean Scully responds to JMW Turner’s atmospheric painting, The Evening Star. Scully’s distinctive abstract and highly textural oil paintings capture personal memories and experiences,  using the deep connection he feels to The Evening Star as a starting point.

Bartolomé Bermejo: Master of the Spanish Renaissance (June 12 – September 29) brings two of the Renaissance painter’s dazzling masterpieces to the UK for the first time, displaying them alongside the gallery’s own Bermejo, Saint Michael’s Triumphs over the Devil which has recently undergone conservation work.

painted portrait of man with painting of the crucifixion in the backgrund

Paul Gauguin, Self Portrait as Christ, 1890-1891. Musée d’Orsay, Paris (RF 1994 2)
© RMN-Grand Palais (musée d’Orsay) / René-Gabriel Ojéda

Towards the end of the year, The Credit Suisse Exhibition: Gauguin Portraits (October 7 – January 26 2020) is the first ever exhibition dedicated to Paul Gauguin’s portraits. The exhibition follows the artist in his later years, and examines the shift his work took from Impressionism to Symbolism. The exhibition features around 50 works, including paintings, works on paper and three-dimensional pieces, exploring how the revered artist expressed meaning in his portraits.


National Portrait Gallery

Over at the National Portrait Gallery, Elizabethan Treasures: Miniatures by Hilliard and Oliver (until May 19) brings together a selection of key works by renowned miniaturists Nicholas Hilliard and Isaac Oliver, who gained international fame for their skilled miniature paintings in the 16th and 17th centuries. The exhibition features portraits of influential Tudor and Jacobean figures, including Elizabeth I, Charles I, Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir Francis Drake.

Only Human: Photographs by Martin Parr (until May 27) brings together works by the renowned Magnum photographer famed for revealing the quirks and idiosyncrasies of everyday British life. For the exhibition, a selection of Parr’s best-known images with a focus on people are presented alongside new works exploring Britain’s current socio-political climate in the wake of the EU referendum.

A major new retrospective of work by Cindy Sherman (June 27 – September 15) goes on show in the summer, which brings together around 150 of the photographer and filmmaker’s works. The exhibition explores the development of Sherman’s output over the past four decades, and focuses on how she manipulates her own appearance as part of her artistic practice.

BP Portrait Award (June 13 – October 20) returns for another year to showcase outstanding contemporary portraiture. The annual prize exhibition is in its fortieth year at the NPG, and promises to represent the very best artists working in portraiture around the globe today.

Next up at the gallery is a show presenting the work of leading contemporary artist Elizabeth Peyton (October 3 – January 5 2020), focusing on her unique and distinctive portraiture work. The exhibition takes a detailed look at the development of her work over the past two decades through more than 40 pieces, which capture a diverse range of political, artistic and pop culture figures, including Kurt Cobain, Napoleon and Frida Kahlo.

Pre-Raphaelite Sisters (October 17 – January 26 2020) is the first major exhibition to uncover the untold story of the women of the Pre-Raphaelite movement, exploring the significant role played by women as artists, models and muses. The show features new discoveries and never-before seen works from the likes of Evelyn de Morgan, Effie Millais (nee Gray) and Elizabeth Siddal, as well as Joanna Wells (nee Boyce), whose work has been all but eradicated from the movement’s history.


Natural History Museum

Each year you can rely on the Natural History Museum‘s Wildlife Photographer of the Year (until June 30) exhibition to amaze and inspire. Now entering its 54th year, the annual photography prize is famous for its spectacular images of the wildlife we’re lucky to share this planet with, with each year’s entries growing more technically advanced, more surprising and more poignant.

photograph of large dark room with tall blacked out windows and large orb depicting the moon in the centre

Museum of the Moon at University of Bristol UK. Credit: Simon Galloway, SWNS

Making its way to the Museum in time for the 50th anniversary of the moon landings, Museum of the Moon (May 17 – September 8) is a six-metre model of our closest celestial neighbour, based on meticulous NASA imagery of the lunar surface. The artwork brings ambient moonlight and an evolving soundscape to the museum space, and is accompanied by a programme of events, performances and interactive experiences.


P21 Gallery

At P21 Gallery, the home of Arab art in London, Heart/Homeless: The Art of Manal Deeb (April 5 – May 18) is an exhibition of work by Palestinian-American artist Manal Deeb. The artist draws on inspiration from three female Paestinian artists, Zulfa al-Sa’di , Juliana Seraphim and Mona Hatoum, to explore the pain of exile and the effect of this pain – and the joy of overcoming it – on the female psyche.


The Photographers’ Gallery – Queen’s Gallery – Royal Academy of Arts – Saatchi Gallery

The Photographers’ Gallery

At The Photographers’ Gallery the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize 2019 (until June 2) exhibition presents works by the four remarkable photographers shortlisted to win the prestigious award. Laia Abril, Susan Meiselas, Arwed Messmer and Mark Ruwedel’s work explore a range of themes including state and gender politics, social injustice and human rights.

photograph of young woman in 50s style dress on a dark street corner

Dave Heath, Washington Square, New York, 1960 © Dave Heath. Collection Torosian, courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York, et Stephen Bulger Gallery, Toronto
Dave Heath: Dialogues with Solitudes is on display at The Photographers’ Gallery until 2nd June 2019.

Alongside, Dave Heath: Dialogues with Solitudes (until June 2) is the first major UK exhibition of work by the influential American photographer to go on display. The show features Heath’s experimental documentary photography, which captures the alienation of post-war North America, and looks at his preoccupation with solitude and contemplation.


Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace

At the Queen’s Gallery in Buckingham Palace a duo of exhibitions focus on Russia. Russia: Royalty & The Romanovs explores the relationship between the British and Russian royal families through rich and varies paintings, sculptures and photographs, while Russia: Roger Fenton’s Photographs of the Crimea, 1855 (both until April 28) presents the pioneering images captured by Roger Fenton, one of the very first war photographers, during the Crimean War.

illustration of flowers and foliage

Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow
Leonardo da Vinci, A star-of-Bethlehem and other plants, c.1506-12, red chalk, pen and ink. Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2019

Later in the year, to mark the 500th anniversary of his death, Leonardo da Vinci: A Life in Drawing (May 24 – October 13) brings together a collection of over 200 drawings by the Renaissance master. The largest da Vinci exhibition for 60 years, it’s a rare opportunity to delve into the mind of one of history’s most important figures.


Royal Academy of Arts

The Royal Academy of Arts’ new Gabriel Jungels-Winkler Galleries host a brand-new site-specific installation for Phyllida Barlow RA: cul-de-sac (until June 23). Barlow’s seemingly finely-balanced large-scale sculptural installations completely transform the spaces they inhabit. Constructed from raw and reclaimed materials, the anti-monumental pieces test our perception of otherwise familiar spaces.

illustration of three nude women

Raphael, The Three Graces, c. 1517-18. Red chalk on paper, 20.3 x 25.8 cm. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2019

In spring a dazzling selection of works by Titian, Raphael, Michelangelo, Leonardo and other masters of the Renaissance era goes on show in The Renaissance Nude (until June 2). Focusing on the 15th and 16th centuries as a pivotal time in Western art, the show looks at the resurgence of the nude in art, inspired by a renewed interest in Greek and Roman art.

Continuing in 2019, the RA’s Summer Exhibition (June 10 – August 12) has run without interruption since its inception in the mid-18th century. The world’s largest open-submission art show, the Summer Exhibition is this year coordinated by British painter Jock McFayden who has selected groundbreaking art from both established and new and emerging artists. Expect a collage-like display of prints, paintings, photographs, film, sculpture and more.

painting showing women bathing in an outdoor pool

Bathing on a
Summer Evening (Le Bain au soir d’été), 1892-93. Oil on canvas, 97 x 131 cm. Kunsthaus Zürich. Gottfried Keller Foundation, Federal
Office of Culture, Bern. Acquired 1965. © Kunsthaus Zürich

Félix Vallotton (June 30 – September 29) is the first comprehensive survey of the Swiss painter and printmaker held in the UK, featuring more than 80 of his works. The exhibition takes a look at Vallotton’s witty commentaries on domestic and political life, explores his life in Paris and his involvement with other members of Parisienne post-impressionist movement Les Nabis, including Pierre Bonnard and Édouard Vuillard, and examines his lasting influence on the art world.

Another first major UK exhibition of a European painter comes to the gallery this summer, this time celebrating Finnish national icon Helene Schjerfbeck (July 20 – October 27). The exhibition presents more than 60 of Schjerfbeck’s ethereal portraits, landscapes and still lifes as it traces the evolution of her career. The show addresses the artist’s fascination with the aging process and brings her painterly vision into the well-deserved light.

Antony Gormley (September 21 – December 3) is a landmark exhibition of the sculptor’s work, bringing together early experimental pieces with large-scale environments made especially for the Royal Academy. The exhibition welcomes both physical and imaginative participation, and asks what it means to have a body when everything essentially consists of the same space and energy.


Saatchi Gallery


At the Saatchi Gallery, Kaleidoscope (until May 5) presents the work of 9 international contemporary artists who all work to skew our perceptions and make us question how we engage with our environment. It features work by a variety of artist working around the world today, including Laura Buckley, Mia Feuer and Pierre Carreau.


Serpentine Galleries – Sir John Soane’s Museum – Somerset House – Tate Britain

Serpentine Galleries

intricate geometric drawing in orange, green and black

Emma Kunz, Work No. 004, Photo: © Emma Kunz Zentrum

At the Serpentine Gallery the aesthetically pleasing abstract geometric drawings by Swiss healer Emma Kunz (until May 19) go on display. Kunz used a pendulum to channel these complex geometric drawings for her patients, which she believed could help heal. An outsider artist, her work was not exhibited until a decade after her death.

video still showing woman holding her face, the background of geometric shapes can be seen through her cheeks

Hito Steyerl, How Not to Be Seen: A Fucking Didactic Educational .MOV File, 2013 (still), HD video, 15 minutes 52 seconds, colour, sound. Image CC 4.0 Hito Steyerl, courtesy of the Artist and Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York

Over the bridge at the Serpentine Sackler Gallery is Hito Steyerl: Power Plants (until May 6), an immersive installation by German artist Hito Steyerl. Following extensive research of the areas surrounding the gallery – recorded as one of the most socially uneven areas in Europe – Steyerl has produced an augmented reality app, which shows the gallery shaped and influenced by social inequality.

Sir John Soane’s Museum

At Sir John Soane’s Museum Eric Parry: Drawing (until May 27) is a major exhibition examining the role of drawing in architectural design, study and understanding. Presenting work made by contemporary architect Eric Parry over the past four decades, the show analyses his sketchbooks, designs and construction drawings while contextualising them with Soane’s own relationship to drawing and architecture.

In autumn, the museum presents Hogarth: Place and Progress (October 9 – January 5 2020), an exhibition which reunites all of Hogarth’s surviving painted series for the first time. The show exposes Hogarth’s wry narratives, which present the vice that the artist perceived across all classes of society. The exhibition features the museum’s own series A Rake’s Progress and An Election, as well as featuring loans from other collections.


Somerset House

black and white photogoraph of paper mache hand in room, a woman's face pokes out from the index finger

Joyce Ng, In Her Five Elements, 2018© Joyce Ng/Somerset House

At Somerset House The work of two contemporary fashion photographers is showcased in Hanna Moon & Joyce Ng: English as a Second Language (until April 28). Hanna Moon reimagines Somerset House’s distinct neoclassical setting through her two muses; one from London, where she lives, and one from South Korea, where she was born. Joyce Ng has used models cast from Somerset House’s own community and invited them to become characters in a narrative inspired by 16th century Chinese novel Journey to the West.

Get Up, Stand Up Now (June 12 – September 15) celebrates black creativity in Britain and beyond, taking artists of the Windrush generation as a starting point and continuing to the work being created by groundbreaking black artists today. The multi-sensory exhibition explores black experience and influence from the post-war era to now.

Alongside, Kaleidoscope: Immigration and Modern Britain (June 21 – September 8) is a new photography exhibition showcasing the work of ten photographers, all born or raised in Britain but many from families originating abroad. The exhibition features work by artists with Hong Kongese, Jamaican and Russian ancestry, and asks how it feels to be descended from immigrants in Britain today.


Tate Britain

At Tate Britain a comprehensive retrospective of photographs by renowned British photographer Don McCullin (until May 6) goes on show. Featuring more than 250 photographs, all printed by McCullin himself in his own darkroom, the exhibition brings to light his legendary and harrowing war and reportage photography.

painting of sunflowers in yellow and cream vase on a yellow table in front of a cream wall

Vincent van Gogh (1853 –1890), Sunflowers, 1888. Oil paint on canvas, 921 x 730 mm. © The National Gallery, London/ Bought, Courtauld Fund, 1924

With the largest collection of paintings by one of history’s most famous painters on show in the UK for nearly a decade, The EY Exhibition: Van Gogh and Britain (until August 11) is a must-see exhibition. Revealing how Van Gogh was inspired by Britain and how he, in turn, inspired British artists, the exhibition recounts the years that Van Gogh spent in England as a young man. Key works on show include Shoes, Starry Night on the Rhône and Sunflowers.

Heading into summer, there’s a major exhibition covering the entire career of painter Frank Bowling (May 31 – August 26). The show follows Bowling’s career from the 60s to today, and explores how he has developed his abstract and sculptural style over the decades, influencing generations of painters.


Tate Modern – Two Temple Place – V&A – V&A Museum of Childhood

Tate Modern

colourful expressionist painting of nude woman lying in a bath

Pierre Bonnard (1867 –1947), Nude in the Bath (Nu dans le bain), 1936-8. Oil paint on canvas, 930 x 1470 mm. Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris/Roger-Viollet

At Tate Modern The C C Land Exhibition: Pierre Bonnard: The Colour of Memory (until May 6) is the first major exhibition of Bonnard’s work in the UK for 20 years. The exhibition brings together a selection of pieces from 1912, when Bonnard began to develop his unique sense of colour, until his death in 1947. A contemporary of Henri Matisse, Bonnard worked from memory, capturing intimate moments and landscapes in an imaginative and expressive way.

Opening in February, the gallery has a major retrospective of work by playful sculptural artist Franz West (until June 2) who subverted the art world with his irreverent but philosophical artworks. The exhibition includes West’s absurd, ironic and abstract sculptures, and visitors will also be able to handle replicas of West’s Passstücke (Adaptives) – papier-mâché sculptures designed to be touched and moved.

surrealist painting in sepia tones showing family members at a table in various sizes

Dorothea Tanning (1910 –2012), Family Portrait, 1954. Oil paint on canvas 910 x 765 mm. Acquired in 1977. Centre Pompidou, Paris. Musée national d’art modern/Centre de création industrielle. Photo © Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais /image Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI © DACS, 2018

Alongside is the first large-scale exhibition of work by surrealist artist Dorothea Tanning (until June 9) for 25 years. Tanning’s 7-decade career is revealed through one hundred works, including her enigmatic paintings, which depict ‘unknown but knowable states’ and her pioneering fabric sculptures from the 1960s.

The year-long celebration of the uncanny and mysterious art of interwar Germany, Magic Realism: Art in Weimar Germany 1919-33 (until July 14) continues until the summer. The exhibition contains pieces not often seen on display from artists including Otto Dix, George Grosz, Albert Birkle and Jeanne Mammen, and explores their diverse practices as art shifted from the expressionist era towards cold veracity and unsettling imagery.

photograph of installation view of artwork displaying words along long tubes in led lights

Exhibition view: Artist Rooms: Jenny Holzer, Tate Modern,London, 2018. © 2018 Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), NYPhoto: Jack Hems

ARTIST ROOMS: Jenny Holzer (until July 31) presents work by the American artist Jenny Holzer, who uses the power of words to provoke strong responses – whether they’re carved in granite, illuminated in LEDs or stitched in wool. Holzer’s texts can be eye-catching, lyrical or contradictory, and address the informational overload we experience and interpret on a daily basis.


Two Temple Place

To commemorate the bicentenary of the birth of Victorian polymath John Ruskin, Two Temple Place has John Ruskin: The Power of Seeing (until April 22). The exhibition brings together almost 200 paintings, drawings, daguerreotypes, metal work and plaster casts to demonstrate the link between Ruskin’s radical views on society and attitude to aesthetic beauty.



photograph of model wearing draped lilac fabric, held around her by a kneeling man

Christian Dior with model Sylvie, circa 1948. Courtesy of Christian Dior

At the V&A after selling out the entire run in just three weeks Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams (until September 1) has been extended until the start of autumn. The exhibition reveals the 72-year history of one of the most influential couturiers of the 20th century, Christian Dior and explores Dior’s Anglophilic relationship with Britain, as well as revealing his enduring influence on fellow fashion designers.

photograph of woman in fashion studio selecting a large roll of striped fabric from a stack of fabric

Mary Quant selecting fabric, 1967. ©Rolls Press/Popperfoto/Getty Images

Opening in spring and keeping with the fashion theme, the museum has a celebration of the work of Mary Quant (April 6 – February 16 2020) whose miniskirts, patterned fabrics and peter pan collars were the epitome of sixties fashion. The exhibition features more than 200 garments and accessories from the designer who revolutionised the British high street.


V&A Museum of Childhood

At the V&A Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green A Pirate’s Life for Me (until April 22) is an immersive exhibition focusing on the influence of fictional pirates in popular culture. The exhibition takes you on an imaginary journey from coastal inn to tropical island, revealing over 300 years of pirates in children’s popular culture, including 1950s favourite Captain Pugwash and Peter Pan’s nemesis, Captain Hook.

Playing with Buildings (until March 2020) sees seventy architecture students rethinking the museum space, reimagining how visitors can interact with the museum and designing new inventive environments for learning and for play. The ideas have been tested and interpreted by local school students who have created their own inventive responses.


Wallace Collection – Wellcome Collection – Whitechapel Gallery – William Morris Gallery

Wallace Collection

black and white photograph of man in studio space standing behind a sculpture reminiscent of an armour helmet

Portrait of Henry Moore with Helmet Head No. 2 (LH281). Reproduced by permission of the Henry Moore Foundation.
Photo: John Hedgecoe, 1967

Over at the Wallace Collection, Henry Moore: The Helmet Heads (until June 23) reveals the eminent sculptor’s obsession with armour, something he would spend many hours admiring at the Wallace Collection. The exhibition presents Moore’s Helmet Head sculptures, which are shown together for the first time at the location where Moore would indulge in his fascination.


Wellcome Collection

black and white photograph of man sitting in chair surrounded by floating hands

Image from the Harry Price Library of Magical Literature, Senate House Library, University of London

At Wellcome Collection there’s Smoke and Mirrors (April 11 – September 15) which explores the relationship between magic and psychology, focusing on how bias and suggestion can alter our senses and asking why so many of us believe in magic, despite extensive logical debunking. The exhibition features artefacts from the world of magic, including spirit photography, magic props and psychology experiments.

Bringing together the work of two artists who are inspired by the representation of chronic illness, Jo Spence and Oreet Ashery: Misbehaving Bodies (May 30 – January 26 2020) challenges ideas of ‘untypical’ bodies and examines how chronic illness can disrupt the way you think about the body, family and identity. Jo Spence’s highly influential and incredibly raw photographs of her journey following her breast cancer diagnosis are on display alongside contemporary artist Oreet Ashery’s series ‘Revisiting Genesis’, exploring death and dying in the digital age.


Whitechapel Gallery

In East London at the Whitechapel Gallery there’s Is This Tomorrow? (until May 12) an ambitious exhibition which sees ten groups of artists and architects bring experimental propositions to the gallery space to tackle some of the leading issues of the 21st century – from big data, bio engineering and climate change to technology and spirituality. The exhibition is inspired by a show at the gallery in 1956, which featured collaborations between 37 British artists and architects, including Richard Hamilton and Eduardo Paolozzi.

”la Caixa” Collection of Contemporary Art Selected by Enrique Vila-Matas (until April 28) is a display curated by preeminent Spanish novelist Enrique Vila-Matas from the La Caixa Contemporary Art Collection. The show is the first in a series of four displays drawn from Spain’s leading contemporary art collection and curated by acclaimed authors. This iteration includes works by Gerhard Richter, Dora García and Andreas Gursky.

Alongside, artist Sophia Al-Maria: BCE (until April 28) invites you into her audio-visual reimagining of history, where traditional ideas of the heroic masculine hunter are challenged and the binaries of light and dark, female and male and good and evil are dissolved.


William Morris Gallery

colour illustration showing Chinese workers of various occupations in front of a landscape view and surrounded by pink and orange flowers

Jiasheng Ding; Shanghai Theatre Academy (est. 1945),Characters from the revolutionary operas, 1974, Shanghai People’s Publishing House (est. 1951), (publisher), Lithograph © Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford

At the splendid Georgian William Morris Gallery in Waltham Forest Cultural Revolution (until May 27) brings to light a collection of Chinese propaganda posters from the 1960s and 70s. The exhibition reveals the traditional landscapes, images of leader Chairman Mao and intricate papercuts all dating from the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution of 1966-76.

Haiku Adventure (until September 15) focuses on the link between traditional Japanese woodblock prints and modern day videogaming – two media seemingly worlds apart yet linked by a common sensibility. At its centre the exhibition looks at Small Island Games’ indie videogame Haiku Adventure, which marries these two not so disparate artforms, while also featuring original Japanese prints and interactive game displays.

2 comments on “The best art exhibitions in London in 2019

  1. Mario Ricca on

    Fantastic post! This blog is a treasure. Thank you !
    I’ve been several times in London, I knopw many of these venues, but NOT Two Temple Place. I MUST see the house and Ruskin’s drawings.


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