London is right up there with Paris, New York, And even Florence, in having some of the best art galleries in the world, because London has long been a melting pot of the arts and had a community of artists and intellectuals. In the 18th century, for example, artists catered for wealthy patrons in Covent Garden, Leicester square, and the West End.
Well-known artists like Hogarth, Reynolds, Hayman, Whistler, Turner, and Thornhill lived in the city at one time or another, and James Thornhill was one of several who achieved considerable success, rivaling that of the best French and Italian artists of the day. Many artists however, were barely getting by in terms of scraping a living but stayed true to their vocation, and it became fashionable for them to mix with writers, poets, and intellectuals in a kind of bohemian community, much of it centred around Chelsea where rents were of course nothing like they are today. The Chelsea School of Art was founded in 1895, later becoming the Chelsea College of Art and Design. The Pre-Raphaelite movement is thought to have taken shape in the Chelsea area.
These days London is still an important centre for art and there are several excellent galleries and virtually always some interesting exhibitions on. If we look around right now there are several notable exhibitions such as the one featuring Damien Hirst at the Tate Modern, the exhibition of anatomical drawings by Leonardo da Vinci at the Queen’s Gallery, the summer exhibition of contemporary art at the Royal Academy, various portrayals of the Queen at the National Portrait Gallery, and the rather quirky Yoko Ono exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery.
Britain is renowned for original invention, creative thinking and design in many different areas, but some artists and designers seem to have less recognition than they deserve. The name Thomas Heatherwick, for example, may not be familiar to many yet he is one of Britain’s most innovative current designers and founder of the Heatherwick studio specializing in creating three-dimensional forms. His current claim to fame is as the major designer responsible for the velodrome at this year’s Olympic Games festival. But he has also worked in many fields including architecture, sculpture, transport, product design, and furniture. A fascinating exhibition is currently on at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
London is likely to long be an inspiration for artists and a place where much of the best artwork can be seen on display.