Five of the best art staycations in England
Published on 12 August 2020
Move aside Florence, Paris and Madrid. We’ve rounded up some of the best places for an art staycation or day trip in England.
All information correct at time of publication. To ensure coronavirus restrictions are not in place both for individual attractions and their regions always check ahead and heed government advice. Travel at your own risk.
Commune with the landscape in Wiltshire
Few artworks in Britain are in such communion with their landscape as the white horses, henges and villages of Wiltshire. Pull on your walking boots, pack the picnic and bring a sketchbook for leisurely days of plein-air sketching.
We recommend packing a copy of Ravilious and Patullo’s White Horses and taking the Great Western Railway out of Westbury. As the 180ft tall Westbury Horse emerges from the treeline you’ll feel the same awe of these centuries-old hillside monuments which captivated Eric Ravilious seventy years ago.
While you’re in the neighbourhood, don’t forget Salisbury Cathedral and its famous 123m spire. Until 25 October 2020 they have 20 iconic and important pieces of contemporary art by artists such as Henry Moore and Grayson Perry, exhibited both inside and outside this Early English Gothic Cathedral.
You can also explore internationally renowned sculptors at Roche Court New Art Centre, be inspired by Malmesbury Abbey’s amalgam of architecture and practise your perspective on Devize's famous Caen Hill Locks.
Treat yourself to world-class art in Liverpool
Liverpool was European Capital of Culture back in 2008 for a reason — as soon as you emerge from Lime Street Station you’re tripping over world-class museums and galleries.
The Walker Art Gallery boasts the best historic art collection outside of London, including masterpieces by Rubens, Poussin, Rembrandt, Turner and Stubbs, Pre-Raphaelite artworks by Rossetti and Millais and Impressionist works by Monet and Degas. Catch their Linda McCartney Retrospective before it closes on 1 November 2020.
For more modern art, wander down to the historic St Albert Dock, the home of Tate Liverpool. Housed within a former warehouse, there are free displays featuring works by Picasso, Nicola Tyson and Salvador Dali — as well as highlights by Aubrey Williams, L.S. Lowry and Prunella Clough. Just around the corner is the International Museum of Slavery, the Museum of Liverpool and, if you’re lucky, a trip on Sir Peter Blake’s Mersey Dazzle Ferry.
If you have a spare day, take a short trip up the coast to Crosby beach, where several of Antony Gormley’s figures dot the shoreline staring out to sea. Initially meant to be a temporary installation, the locals loved them so much they’ve stayed put ever since.
Explore country houses and medieval streets in Norfolk
Norfolk’s broads, waterways and idyllic coastlines are perfect for any artist wanting to emulate the Dutch masters or practise their seascapes.
Norwich famously has the most medieval churches of any city north of the Alps, and architecture lovers will relish the amalgam of Norman, medieval, Victorian and modern styles in Norwich Cathedral. Check their calendar for regular artistic interventions — the Natural History Museum London’s Dippy skeleton is popping in to visit in 2021.
If you can drag yourself away from the winding streets and cozy pubs of Norwich’s centre, the treasures of the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts await. Housed in a stunning building designed by Norman Foster RA and Wendy Cheesman, its collection includes works by Picasso, Modigliani and Degas. The attached 350-acre sculpture park features works by Henry Moore, Elisabeth Frink, Lynn Chadwick, Liliane Lijn and Antony Gormley.
Take a trip a bit further north-west and you’ll find Houghton Hall, just outside King's Lynn. The Hall itself was a collaboration between Colen Campbell and James Gibbs, resulting in one of the finest Palladian houses in the UK. As well as housing its own art collection, including works by John Singer Sargent RA, you can also enjoy an intervention by Anish Kapoor RA until 1 November 2020.
Walk among giants in West Yorkshire
While every Riding of Yorkshire has more than enough to offer, we’re heading West. If you’re not seduced by the straight talking humour of the residents then you’ll fall in love with the beauty of the moors, the metropolitan vibrancy of its cities and, of course, the art.
Huddled between Barnsley and Huddersfield is 500 acres of parkland which is home to dozens of works by internationally renowned sculptors. Every hill, every valley and every path in Yorkshire Sculpture Park promises a unique experience, each encounter different depending on the season, weather and the company you keep. You might weather-watch with Sean Henry’s Seated Figure, conjure myths around Sophie Ryder’s ominous Sitting hare, or just have a good laugh at Brian Fell’s Ha-Ha Bridge.
Just down the road, the Hepworth Wakefield is a pile of elegant, utilitarian concrete on the River Calder (which also powers the majority of its heating), with expansive windows opening onto Wakefield’s landmarks. The worthy winner of the ArtFund 2017 Museum of the Year, the Hepworth features works by Wakefield’s famous daughter but also works by Ben Nicholson, Patrick Heron, L.S. Lowry and Henry Moore as well as significant contemporary artists Frank Auerbach, Maggi Hambling, Anthea Hamilton, Martin Parr and Eva Rothschild.
Fill the rest of your days by exploring the landscape with David Hockney's A Yorkshire Sketchbook (or admire his actual work at Saltaire's Salts Mill), take a trip to Leeds Art Gallery’s nationally important collection of 20th century British art, pop down to Huddersfield Art Gallery (don’t miss their Francis Bacon), and — of course — don’t forget time for the socially-distanced pub.
Sketch the sea in Cornwall
Lastly, no art lover can say they’ve truly seen England without a pilgrimage to the rugged coastline, steep hills and endless sea horizons of Cornwall.
The beauty and remoteness of Cornwall has attracted artists for decades, most notably resulting in the Newlyn and St Ives Schools. The latter is the reason Tate has its outpost in the same town — their current exhibition explores Modern Art and St Ives. Once you’ve had your fill of Tate (and stopped for the obligatory fish and chips lunch) spend an afternoon relaxing in Barbara Hepworth’s studio and garden, then pick up something from the David Leach pottery down the road.
In between coastal walks, hiking and pasties, make sure to also pop down to Falmouth Art Gallery or Penlee House Gallery. Artistic inspiration lies everywhere — whether it’s the poetic, lonely stacks of Cornwall’s mining history, or the sun setting over the fishing boats in Newlyn harbour. Gorgeous.
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