Five Unmissable Paintings On Display At Tate Britain

Museum Guide

By Google Arts & Culture

The Awakening Conscience (1853) by William Holman HuntTate Britain

From Turner to Whistler, Tate Britain in London is home to some of the most famous works of the Victorian era.

Situated just off the bank of the River Thames in London, Tate Britain is home to many of the most important and best loved works of British art from the 16th century to the present day. Its collection of Victorian era paintings by Romanticists such as J.M.W. Turner
and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood is undoubtedly the most extensive in the world. Here are five must see highlights:

The Awakening Conscience- William Holman Hunt
Holman Hunt captures the exact moment in which a mistress (or prostitute) quite literally “sees the light”; a beam of sunlight coming in from the garden seems to inspire her towards a moral epiphany and to leap from her lover’s lap. With a sleazy grin, he tries to keep hold of her, but her gaze is so determined, her movement so deliberate, that we know that no amount of smooth talking will persuade her to stay.

The Awakening Conscience William Holman Hunt 1853 (From the collection of Tate Britain)

Hunt also designed the frame for the painting which contains reliefs of bells— which bring to mind warning alarms— and of a star signifying spiritual rebirth. Check it out in detail below.

Museum View of The Awakening Conscience William Holman Hunt 1853 (From the collection of Tate Britain)

Christ in the House of His Parents (The Carpenter's Shop) - John Everett Millais
Millais based this scene on a real workshop in Oxford and courted controversy for the way in which he boldly reimagined the the young Christ and his family as a poor laborers. The floor is littered with wood shavings and the figures look emaciated and covered in dust. Most scandalous of all for a Victorian audience however was the color of Christ’s hair; the novelist Charles Dickens brutally dismissed it as a painting of “a hideous, wry-necked, blubbering, red-haired boy in a night-gown".

Christ in the House of His Parents (`The Carpenter's Shop') (Around 1849) by Sir John Everett MillaisTate Britain

Christ in the House of His Parents (`The Carpenter's Shop') John Everett Millais c. 1849 (From the collection of Tate Britain)

In the Museum View below we can see that the painting hangs between Rossetti's Ecce Ancilla Domini — which similarly provoked reaction for its domestic reimagining of the Virgin Mary— and Millais' vibrant Mariana .

Museum View of Christ in the House of His Parents (`The Carpenter's Shop') John Everett Millais c. 1849 (From the collection of Tate Britain)

A Disaster at Sea- J.M.W. Turner
Some thirty-nine years before the first Impressionist exhibition, Turner’s work already sought to capture the feeling or, well, impression, of a moment or sensation, rather than simply recording it with lifelike accuracy. In this painting, depicting the wreck of a ship off the coast of Boulogne in 1833, Turner throws us into the chaos of the scene, using fluid swirling brushstrokes to evoke the violence of the turbulent waters. From afar all that’s initially visible is a sea of colors blurred together, but look closer and the victims of the wreck can be found enveloped by the crashing waves.

A Disaster at Sea (1835) by Joseph Mallord William TurnerTate Britain

A Disaster at Sea J. M. W. Turner 1835 (From the collection of Tate Britain)

The Lady of Shalott- John William Waterhouse
John William Waterhouse’s painting depicts a scene from the Victorian poet Alfred Lord Tennyson’s narrative poem, "The Lady of Shalott". The story is about young woman, imprisoned on an island and cursed to weave at her loom (a fabric is here seen draped over the side of the boat) without ever looking directly at the outside world. She eventually gives into temptation catching a glimpse of the dashing Knight of Camelot and decides to sail towards him, only to die of her curse before she arrives. Waterhouse’s richly detailed, atmospheric work showcases the vibrant beauty of the world that the Lady finally gets to experience as she flees.

The Lady of Shalott (1888) by John William WaterhouseTate Britain

The Lady of Shalott John William Waterhouse 1888 (From the collection of Tate Britain)

The painting hangs above Millais' Ophelia— an earlier Pre-Raphaelite literary depiction which may have inspired Waterhouse.

Museum View of The Lady of Shalott John William Waterhouse 1888 (From the collection of Tate Britain)

Nocturne: Blue and Silver- Chelsea- James Abbott McNeill Whistler
This painting of the Chelsea bank of the Thames is an excellent example of Whistler’s belief that the best art should simply appeal to a sense of beauty rather than serve any kind of social or moral purpose. It’s composed almost entirely of layers of different hues of blue, which gently merge together to create an image of balance and tranquility. Whistler famously compared his art with musical melodies (a Nocturne is a type of piano composition) and this sense of harmony, and an emphasis on sensations rather than precise representations, is clear to see here.

Nocturne: Blue and Silver - Chelsea (1871) by James Abbott McNeill WhistlerTate Britain

Nocturne: Blue and Silver - Chelsea James Abbott McNeill Whistler 1871(From the collection of Tate Britain)

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