Exploring British Identity Through Art

Visual artist Sarah Maple explores what it means to be British through the Google Arts & Culture archive

By Google Arts & Culture

What is more British, a cup of tea or the Queen? To visual artist Sarah Maple, both of these things go hand in hand with “Britishness”. Delving into the Google Arts & Culture archive, Maple explores what it means to be British through these humorous, satirical, and historical images. What do you think makes Britain British?

Queen Elizabeth II and The Prince of Wales at the Braemar Gathering (2 September 2006) by Chris JacksonClarence House

What does it mean to be British? Visual artist Sarah Maple answers through images selected from the Google Arts & Culture archive.

Having a laugh

“During the interviews, the first thing people tended to mention unsurprisingly was the Queen and Royal family. There were some great images but this was my favorite, I love how they just look like normal people having a laugh here.”

Tea cup and saucer (c. 1769–1784)Dallas Museum of Art

Anyone for tea?

“Tea and Britishness go hand in hand. It is the answer to all of life’s problems for a Brit. In a pickle? Let’s sit down, have a tea, and everything will feel that bit better.”

William Hogarth, The March of the Guards to Finchley, 1750 © The Foundling Museum (1750) by William HogarthThe Foundling Museum

How cheeky of Hogarth

“Hogarth is one of my favorite artists and I just visited this work in person a couple of months ago. He depicts everyday life and tales of Britain in the 18th century and I love how he slips in social and political commentary and is extremely satirical and cheeky which is right up my street.”

[British Gentleman with Group of Eastern Potentates] (1860s) by UnknownThe Metropolitan Museum of Art

Smile for the camera

“I was surprised how many people in the interviews mentioned the commonwealth and I tried to find an example of something that symbolized this. I recently found a few books on Empire in charity shops and there were so many of these uncomfortable images.”

Immigration Demo (1968-07-08) by William LovelaceGetty Images

A mirror up to society

“The immigration demo combats the idea of an idealized Britain of the past – additionally how this mirrors demos in recent times from groups such as the EDL (English Defense League).”

Self Portrait With Fried Eggs 1996 (1999) by Sarah LucasBritish Council

How do you like your eggs in the morning?

“Sarah Lucas is also a favorite of mine, to me she is the perfect example of classic British humor.”

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