Christmas in London: 10 art stops for the holiday season

In case you haven’t visited already, the Abstract Expressionism exhibition at the Royal Academy is the place to start your Christmas art-escapade. In the halls of the Academy you’ll have the chance to stand before stunning, powerful artworks by Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Clyfford Still, Willem de Kooning, Lee Krasner, Barnett Newman, Franz Kline, David Smith and Arshile Gorky. At the same venue: a fascinating exhibition on the theatrical, bizarre work of James Ensor curated by Luc Tuymans.
From the Abstract Expressionism exhibition: Jackson Pollock, Blue poles, 1952. Oil, enamel and aluminium paint with glass on canvas, 212.1 x 488.9 cm. National Gallery of Australia, Canberra (c) The Pollock-Krasner Foundation ARS, NY and DACS, London 2016.
From the Intrigue: James Ensor by Luc Tuymans exhibition: James Ensor, The Intrigue, 1890. Oil on canvas, 90 x 149 cm. Antwerp, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten. Photo KMSKA © - Art in Flanders vzw. Photography: Hugo Maertens / © DACS 2016.

A short walk away from the Royal Academy, you’ll find the National Gallery, one of the leading art museums of the world and a venue worth visiting at any time of the year. This season though you have an extra reason to visit: exceptional works by Caravaggio, displayed next to works by the other Italian, French, Flemish, and Dutch artists he inspired. One of the most celebrated exhibitions of the season and a rare opportunity to witness the genius of Caravaggio and his legacy!
Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, Salome receives the Head of John the Baptist. About 1609-10. Oil on canvas 91.5 x 106.7 cm. The National Gallery, London © The National Gallery, London.

Through a pleasant walk on the Mall (or better, through St James Park, if weather permits) you’ll find yourself in front of the Buckingham Palace where the Queen’s Gallery is! The entrance is from the left side of the palace (please, don’t try to enter through the main palace gates). The exhibition of this season is Portrait of the Artist with self-portraits by world-renowned artists from the 15th to the 21th century including Rembrandt, Rubens, Artemisia Gentileschi, Lucian Freud and David Hockney but also images of artists by their friends, relatives and pupils, including the most reliable surviving likeness of Leonardo da Vinci by his student, Francesco Melzi.
Left: Cristofano Allori, Judith with the Head of Holofernes, 1613. Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2016. Right: Artemisia Gentileschi, Self-portrait as the Allegory of Painting (La Pittura), c.1638. Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2016. 

Moving on to Victoria Station for a one-stop tube-journey to Sloane Square station for a visit to the Saatchi Gallery. The Painters' Painters (free) exhibition is an exceptional show with works by contemporary painters such as Richard Aldrich, Bjarne Melgaard, Raffi Kalenderian, David Salle, Martin Maloney, David Brian Smith, Ansel Krut, Ryan Mosley, Dexter Dalwood.
Left: Martin Maloney, Stroller, 2004. Oil on canvas 260 x 231 cm. Right: Ryan Mosley, Sirens, 2008. Oil on canvas 190 x 170 cm.

Grab the tube again and head to the next stop (South Kensington) for a visit at the Victoria & Albert Museum; one of the most Christmas-y places to be on this time of the year. The Museum has a rich holiday program for all tastes with special Christmas tours, displays about Victorian Christmas cards, Nativity Scenes, festive decorative objects and many more. Search the rich collection of decorative arts, costumes, tapestries and also check the three temporary exhibitions currently on view: You say you want a Revolution?, an exhibition which documents the era-defining significance and impact of the late 1960s through some of the greatest music and performances of the 20th century alongside fashion, film, design and political activism, Undressed, a show dedicated to the history of underwear and Opus Anglicanum with masterpieces of English Medieval Embroidery.
Installation image for You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966 - 70. Photo (c) Victoria and Albert Museum, London. 

If you feel like walking, the Serpentine Galleries is a 10-15 minute walk to the north (through Exhibition Road), right in the heart of the Kensington Gardens. The current attraction is an exhibition with early paintings and drawings by the star architect Zaha Hadid (1950 - 2016), designer of the Serpentine Sackler Gallery building, where the exhibition is held. At the main Serpentine Gallery building, an exhibition of the American artist Lucy Raven is on view.
Zaha Hadid, Installation view, Serpentine Sackler Gallery, London (8 December 2016 – 12 February 2017)© Zaha Hadid Foundation. Image © 2016 Hugo Glendinning.

The next stop is the Somerset House, the must-visit place for the holiday season, for the huge ice rink installed in the museum’s courtyard. Grab the chance to see the Hair by Sam McKnight exhibition, dedicated to the iconic hairstylist’s 40-year career (Somerset House) or get inspired by the extreme acrobatic poses of the sculptures displayed at Rodin and Dance exhibition (Courtauld Gallery) before you hit the ice rink and fascinate the crowds.
© 2016 Somerset House Trust.

Since most of the Christmas stories we know, or watch on TV are influenced in one way or another by the original Christmas Carol story by Dickens, The Charles Dickens Museum is the it-place to search for the season’s feeling. Located in the actual London home of the Dickenses, the museum offers the visitor a time-travel to Victorian London through the eyes, and the stories, of the great author. Needless to say that the Christmas Carol Reimagined exhibition is a must!
Dickensian: Behind the scenes of the BBC drama series © 2016 Charles Dickens Museum.

Heading towards the City, before crossing the river for the Tate , you should make a necessary stop at St Paul’s Cathedral to see the two large-scale video installations, Mary and Martyrs by Bill Viola. The powerful images of the videos combined with the imposing interior of the Cathedral are an experience you should not miss.
Bill Viola, Mary, 2016. Photograph: Peter Mallet
Bill Viola, Mary, 2016. Photograph: Peter Mallet.

Crossing the bridge you’ll find yourself at the Tate Modern where the long-awaited exhibition on the work of Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008) presents the iconic artist’s six-decade career. If you are in the mood for some of the best photography from the first half of the 20th century, visit the Radical eye: Modernist Photography from the Sir Elton John Collection exhibition (displayed at the brand new Switch House) an once-in-a-lifetime chance to see one of the world’s greatest private collections of photography.
Robert Rauschenberg, Untitled (Spread), 1983. Solvent transfer and acrylic on wood panel, with umbrellas, 188.6 x 245.7 x 88.9 cm © Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, New York.
Left: Herbert Bayer, Self-Portrait, 1932. The Sir Elton John Photographic Collection (c) DACS, 2016. Right: Dorothea Lange, Migrant Mother, 1936. The Sir Elton John Photographic Collection.

Left: Herbert Bayer, Self-Portrait, 1932. The Sir Elton John Photographic Collection (c) DACS, 2016. Right: Dorothea Lange, Migrant Mother, 1936. The Sir Elton John Photographic Collection. - See more at:

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