Sir Henry Tate was a sugar refinery owner and self-made millionaire, known for his generosity and as a great promoter of health and education. In 1889 he donated his collection of contemporary paintings to the government with the stipulation that a suitable venue be made available for displaying the art; he donated a further £80,000 for the construction of such a place. Thus the National Gallery for British Art, or the Tate Gallery, was born.
While the Tate Gallery originally housed modern art from Britain and Europe, after the opening of Tate Modern in 1994 the old Gallery shifted its focus to solely British historical and contemporary art, becoming the Tate Britain we see today.
Best of British
The building itself is a striking piece of neoclassical architecture, with an imposing portico entrance, domed ceiling and beautiful atrium. The museum offers an unparalleled view of British art from 1545 to the present as well as spotlights on specific artists, including acclaimed temporary exhibitions such as the recent Barbara Hepworth retrospective.
The works of the great landscape artist J.M.W. Turner are housed in the Clore Gallery, where visitors can study his magnificent oil paintings and unfinished sketches up close; the mystical visionary paintings of William Blake also have their own space in the Blake Room, which comprises one of the most important collections of Blake in the world. Visceral works by Francis Bacon, sunny David Hockney and the enigmatic 17th century Cholmondeley Ladies all vie for your attention. Tate Britain offers the very best of British art - and it’s entirely free.