Get Arty With These New London Exhibitions

Four new exhibitions in London, from classical paintings by John Singer Sargent to quirky pop art

Visit these new exhibitions in London, to see a new take on political pop art, and classical paintings from Sargent.

Sargent: Portraits of Artists and Friends

Influential American painter John Singer Sargent is known for his formal portraiture, but a new exhibition takes a more personal look at the man and his work in Sargent: Portraits Of Artists And Friends at the National Portrait Gallery (12 February-25 May).

Shining light on his close links with pioneering contemporaries from across the arts—including his portraits of Monet and Édouard Pailleron—there is a refreshing informality in the works. Harnessing a friendly flair and experimentation often suppressed in his commissioned pieces after the Madame Gautreau affair (in which a revealing painting of the belle célèbre of Parisian society caused outrage), the paintings reflect a true balance of business and pleasure. This is Sargent with the shackles off.

Group with Parasols, John Singer Sargent, c 1904-5, on show at National Portrait Gallery, London, UK
Group with Parasols, John Singer Sargent, c 1904-5, on show at the National Portrait Gallery (©Private collection)

The sizeable number of loans, from both sides of the Atlantic, follow Sargent’s adventures in Paris, London and Boston as well as his travels in the Italian and English countryside. His sitters—including friends’ wives, siblings, lovers and children are all depicted informally.

Key highlights include his only two surviving portraits of his novelist friend, Robert Louis Stevenson, which will be displayed together for the first time since they were painted in the 1880s. Sargent clearly used these opportunities to reassess the making of art (his own included) and the relationship of the artist to the natural world, dabbling in different brush strokes and textures.

Magnificent Obsessions: The Artist As Collector

The first major British exhibition to explore the personal collections of post-war and contemporary artists, the Barbican's Magnificent Obsessions (12 February-25 May) features an assortment of work from Damien Hirst, Peter Blake and Andy Warhol among others.

 

Magnificent Obsessions exhibition at Barbican, London, UK
See what the artists used to collect, with precious items belonging to Warhol, Hirst, Blake and more (Courtesy Barbican Gallery)

More than simply providing an eclectic collection, the exhibition looks at how these artists used their purchases to find inspiration and locate reference points for emerging styles. Amassing works for research and study was a particular obsession for Warhol, who had a daily routine of shopping in antique and junk shops to uncover hidden treasures – proving that artistic influence is not always elitist.

Similarly, Arman used this accumulation technique to develop his interest in African art as a student, which went on to influence his sculptures in the 1960s.

But there is also a more emotive side to each collection—a passionate insight into what struck at the souls of some of the biggest names in art when they were in their personal space as pure admirers rather than professional artists.

Post Pop: East Meets West

A major survey of the Pop Art movement on Cold War cultures from the 1960s onwards, the exhibition at Saatchi Gallery (to 3 March) combines 250 works by more than 60 artists from America, China, the former Soviet Union and the UK.

Included are lesser-known forms of Pop Art such as ‘Cynical Realism’, which has flourished in China since the turn of the 21st century—proving the politicised role art manages to play even within less liberal regimes.

 East Meets West exhibition, Saatchi Gallery, London, UK
Post-Cold War pop art from around the world, especially in China, US and Russia (©Kosolapov Malevich)

Many of the artists draw material from region-specific advertising, propaganda posters and patriotic motifs to assert their messages, cleverly inverting items of political spin into gospels of truth about the regimes.

Sculpture Victorious

The first exhibition devoted to the innovative and compelling sculpture produced during Queen Victoria’s reign holds unexpected depth. Sculpture Victorious, at Tate Britain (25 February-25 May) shows a time of immense change in the wake of the Industrial Revolution, where key sculptors such as Francis Leggatt Chantrey and Alfred Gilbert were tasked with reinforcing the strength and resilience of the British Empire. The exhibition also includes lesser-known yet equally influential artists such as Mary Watts.

Sculpture Victorious, Tate Britain, London, UK
See ornate, inventive sculpture from the Victorian era (Courtesy Tate Britain)

One of the most affecting pieces on display is a large ceramic elephant, manufactured for the Paris Exposition of 1889, underlining Britain's imperial scope.