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The very best British Artists

Updated: Sep 5, 2023

by Stephen Andrews (単語・表現リスト by Shigeri Nishide)

Ophelia by Millais: below

Shigeri and I are big art fans!

We love visiting London’s art galleries to see the latest exhibitions. And, of course, if you do live in London, you’re spoiled for choice.

All the best-known art galleries are here: Tate, Millbank; Tate Modern; the National Gallery; and the Royal Academy of Arts to name just a few. Plus there are lots of smaller galleries to explore all over the city.

So, this month, I thought I’d take a look at the very best British Artists, new and old, and their best-known paintings.


Born: 1974

Graffiti Art, created in city streets on walls or other surfaces, became an art movement in the second half of the 20th century. No one actually knows who Banksy is and speculation about his identity has helped to create his massive popularity. Banksy’s works of political and social commentary have been featured on walls of cities throughout the world. He has created some of the best-known graffiti ever including “Flower Thrower”, “The Mild Mild West” and “Balloon Girl” which was ranked as the favorite artwork in United Kingdom in a 17 Samsung poll. Banksy is the most famous graffiti artist and he has without doubt helped to make street art very popular.

Shigeri and I even discovered a Banksy close to our house – see the picture.

Masterpiece: Balloon Girl (2002)

Damien Hirst

Born: June 7, 1965

The Young British Artists (YBA) is a name given to a group of visual artists who first began to exhibit together in London in 1988, known for their shock tactics. Hirst is reportedly the richest living YBA artist, with his wealth valued at £215M in 2010. From the beginning of his career, Hirst concentrated on grabbing the attention of the public and the critics. He was highly successful in this and rose to become the art superstar of the 1990s. He is best known for his series of artworks in which dead animals arepreserved in formaldehyde. The most famous among these is “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, an artwork depicting a dead 14-foot (4.3 m) tiger shark immersed in formaldehyde. Damien Hirst is without doubt one of the most renowned British artists.

Masterpiece: The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living (1991)

Tracey Emin

Born: July 3, 1963

Tracey Emin is the most famous YBA after Damien Hirst. She has explored a wide variety of media, and her art is known for being autobiographical. Her best known works include “Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963–1995”, a tent on which is scribbled the names of everyone she had ever shared a bed with; and “My Bed, a ready-made installation consisting of her own unmade dirty bed. No wonder she’s called the “bad girl of British art”.

Masterpiece: Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963–1995 (1995)

David Hockney

Born: 9 July 1937

Pop Art was an influential 20th century art movement that used imagery from popular culture. David Hockney is one of the most prominent figures of the movement and his 1967 painting “A Bigger Splash” is an iconic work of Pop Art. Hockney focuses on personal subject matter; and depicts scenes from his own life and that of friends. His famous works include swimming pools, and suburban Californian landscapes. Hockney is openly gay and several paintings by him; including “Domestic Scene, Los Angeles” explore homosexuality. In 2011, in a poll of more than 1,000 British artists, David Hockney was voted the most influential British artist of all time.

Masterpiece: A Bigger Splash (1967). See it at Tate Britain.

Lucian Freud

Lived: December 8, 1922 – July 20, 2011

Grandson of the famous Austrian psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, Lucian Freud is renowned for his unflinching observations of anatomy and the human body. Lucian Freud was a private man and, during his 60 year long career, he mostly painted people in his life: friends, family, fellow painters, lovers and children. His subjects needed to make a very large commitment of their time. He spent 2,400 hours to complete a nude in 2007, and a series of paintings of his mother in the 1970s took 4,000 hours! Among the most famous works of Freud are his insightful series of self-portraits that spanned over six decades. Lucian Freud is regarded as one of the leading portraitists of the 20th century. Tate Britain has many of his paintings.

Masterpiece: Benefits Supervisor Sleeping (1995)

Francis Bacon

Lived: October 28, 1909 – April 28, 1992

Francis Bacon was an Irish artist known for his grotesque and raw imagery. He initially worked as an interior decorator and it was not until his late 30s that he took up painting seriously. The breakthrough work of Bacon was the 1944 triptych “Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion”. The painting caused a sensation and established him as one of the foremost post-war painters. Francis Bacon focused his energies on portraiture and his subjects often appear distorted and violent. His best known artworks depict Popes, crucifixions and portraits of close friends. He is regarded as one of the most important artists of the 20th century. In 2013, his painting “Three Studies of Lucian Freud” was sold for US$142.4 million!

Masterpiece: Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (1944). The painting is on display at Tate Britain.

Henry Moore

Lived: July 30, 1898 – August 31, 1986

Henry Moore was a pioneer in the field of modern sculpture and is considered among the greatest sculptors of the 20th century. He’s best known for his semi-abstract monumental bronze sculptures, located around the world as public works of art. You can see his sculpture ‘Three Standing Figures” in Battersea Park; “Knife Edge Two Piece” in Parliament Square; “Large Spindle Piece” in King’s Cross Square; and “Two Piece Reclining Figure” on Hampstead Heath, to name just a few of his sculptures in the capital.

Masterpiece: Reclining Figures (1930s–1980s)

John Everett Millais

Lived: 8th June 1829 – 13th August 1896

Millais was one of the founders of the Pre Raphaelites, a 19th century art movement that treated its subjects with maximum realism. The term “Pre-Raphaelite” conjures up visions of tall, willowy ladies with pale skin, flowing locks, scarlet lips, and melancholic expressions. The paintings, often of the artists' wives and mistresses, sometimes caused controversy in conservative Victorian England. Millais was a child prodigy who, aged eleven, became the youngest student to enter the Royal Academy Schools. The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was founded at his family home in London, at 83 Gower Street (now number 7). Millais became the most famous exponent of the style and he produced a picture that became famous throughout the world, “Ophelia” in 1851–52, which you can see in Tate Britain.

Masterpiece: Ophelia.

J.M.W. Turner

Lived: April 23, 1775 – December 19, 1851

Joseph Mallord William Turner is one of the greatest landscape artists of all time and the most renowned British artist ever. During his time, landscape painting was not very popular, but Turner, with his imaginative approach to landscape art, transformed it. Turner is known for his mastery in capturing the effects of colour and light and he is often called “the painter of light”. He precisely captured architectural and natural details in his early works but in his mature stage, his compositions became more fluid and abstract. A deeply experimental and progressive painter, J.M.W. Turner deeply influenced future generation of artists. The Turner Prize, the best-known visual arts award in Britain, is named after him. Visit the National Gallery to see many of his famous paintings.

Masterpiece: The Fighting Temeraire (1839)

John Constable

Lived: June 11, 1776 – March 31, 1837

Another influential English landscape artist is John Constable. He was deeply attached to the area where he was born, the Essex-Suffolk border in east England. His most celebrated masterpieces depict the landscape of this area, which is now known as Constable Country. Constable focused on nature itself to bring out its beauty and power. Although famous now, Constable never achieved financial success. He sold only 20 paintings in England in his lifetime. He was more popular in France but he refused all invitations to travel internationally to promote his work. John Constable produced some of the most captivating pictures of England by any artist at any time. You’ll find many of his famous paintings at the National Gallery.

Masterpiece: The Hay Wain (1821)

William Blake

Lived: November 28, 1757 – August 12, 1827

William Blake, widely recognized as one of the greatest poets in the English language, was also among the most original visual artists of the 18th century. Blake claimed to experience visions throughout his life and created numerous illustrations of biblical texts. Working primarily in engravings, he created illustrations of mythical worlds full of gods and powers; and criticized the effects of the industrial revolution and the suppression of the individual. The colourful, vivid visionary art of Blake, and his use of image and text together influenced art movements well into the 20th century. William Blake was largely unrecognised during his lifetime. However, recently he was ranked 38 in a BBC’s poll of the 100 Greatest Britons and was called “far and away the greatest artist Britain has ever produced”. Tate Britain has many Blake works on display.

Masterpiece: Newton (1795)

So that’s my selection of British painting geniuses. If you’d like to find out more, I hope that you’ll find them a colourful starting point! Remember, London is full of art galleries, so maybe when you’re out shopping or have some spare time during the day, why not pop in and, like the artists themselves, be inspired by what you see!



formaldehyde:  ホルムアルデヒド(有機化合物の一種)

prominent: 重要な(有名な)

depicts: (アートなどで)表現する

renowned: 名高い(有名な)

unflinching: 毅然とした、断固とした

triptych: 3枚続き、3枚で一つの絵

Pope: ローマ教皇(法王)

crucifixion: 十字架へのはりつけ

willowy: 細くしなやかで優美な

biblical: 聖書の

See the picture: この絵は、私の家の近くの£1ショップの壁に描かれていたのですが、ある日消え去り、その後アメリカで£450,000でオークションにかけられました。壁の絵が盗まれたんです!!その後、その壁には絵があったところに点線とハサミ、そして、小さなネズミが「Why?」というプラカードを持った絵が描かれました。以下がその写真です。





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