London gets arty: 11 unmissable exhibitions in the capital

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Words by Helen Dorritt

This autumn sees a host of art exhibitions opening in London – real blockbuster shows that are well worth jumping on a train and coming into town for. We round up the dates that should be in your diary.

Gauguin Portraits, National Gallery

Until 26 January 2020

Gauguin Portraits is the first ever exhibition that’s entirely dedicated to Paul Gauguin’s portraits.

Works from the French artist include paintings, drawings and 3D objects that have been curated from private and public collections all over the world, giving you the chance to see how Gauguin portrayed the same sitter in a variety of different media.

Antony Gormley, Royal Academy of Arts

Until 3 December 2019

This acclaimed British sculptor will take over the main galleries of the Royal Academy this season with a selection of his works from the 1970s until the present day.

Visitors will be able to see Gormley’s work up close and personal with a series of experiential installations, some of which have been remade for the exhibition and some of which are brand new – expect life-size cast-iron figures and a ‘drawing in space’ made from miles of coiled metal. Some sketchbooks and drawings will also be on display.

Antony Gormley

Lucien Freud: The Self-Portraits, Royal Academy of Arts

27 October 2019–26 January 2020

Back to the Royal Academy again, this time for the self-portraits of Lucien Freud. Witness a world first as more than 50 self-portraits created by this iconic British painter are brought together in one exhibition.

Spanning 1939 to 2003, not only are these paintings a wonderful opportunity to view Freud’s development as an artist, they’re also a fascinating look into the ageing process.

Lucien Freud

Nam June Paik, Tate Modern

Until 9 February 2020

South Korea’s Nam June Paik was one of the world’s most visionary artists and his five-decade career hugely influenced art and culture – he coined the phrase ‘the electronic superhighway’ in 1974, anticipating the potential of global connections through technology.

This retrospective at Tate Modern brings over 200 of his works together in a dazzling display of video, music and installations.

Nam June Paik

Rembrandt’s Light, Dulwich Picture Gallery

Until 2 February 2020

2019 is the 350th anniversary of Rembrandt’s death and this exhibition will display 35 of his works, including loans from the Rijksmuseum and the Louvre. Showcasing the Dutch artist’s clever use of light, works include Philemon and Baucis, Christ and St Mary Magdalen at the Tomb and Girl at a Window.

This exhibition is more than just a wander around a gallery, however: the gallery’s curators have worked with Hollywood cinematographer Peter Suschitzy to create atmospheric lighting and design, helping visitors to experience and appreciate Rembrandt’s work in a whole new way.

Christ and St Mary Magdalen at the Tomb

Being Human, Wellcome Collection

Permanent exhibition

Being Human is a brand new permanent exhibition at the Wellcome Collection, London’s museum and library celebrating medicine, science and art.

It looks at what it means to be human in the 21st century through 50 artworks and objects across four sections: genetics, minds and bodies, infection, and environmental breakdown. Highlights to look out for include a bronze sculpture that smells of breast milk, a jukebox that plays songs about illness and a DNA editing kit.

Being Human 2, courtesy Wellcome Collection

Pre-Raphaelite Sisters, National Portrait Gallery

Until 26 January 2020

While the men behind the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood are well-known – Rossetti, Millais, Holman Hunt – there were several women who were equally influential in the movement’s success, and this exhibition celebrates their achievements as artists, models and muses.

Featuring paintings, photographs, manuscripts and personal items, many of which have never been seen in public before, the exhibition tells the stories of 12 women central to the PRB, including Elizabeth Siddal, Effie Millais, Evelyn de Morgan and Joanna Wells.

Thou Bird of God by Joanna Boyce Wells, 1861, private collection

Mary Sibande: I Came Apart at the Seams, Somerset House

Until 5 January

Mary Sibande is one of South Africa’s most celebrated contemporary artists and this display is her first solo exhibition in the UK.

A mix of photography and sculpture, the exhibition is a journey of Sibande’s avatar Sophie, and explores identities and personal narratives in a post-colonial world.

Mary Sibande, A Terrible Beauty is Born (Long Live the Dead Queen Series), 2013. Copyright of the artist

Tim Walker: Wonderful Things, V&A

Until 8 March 2020

If playful, inventive photography is your thing, then you’ll love this V&A exhibition by one of the world’s leading creative photographers. London-based Walker is a contributor to Vogue, Vanity Fair and other glossy magazines, with a style that celebrates theatricality, surrealism and romance.

This exhibition brings together some of his most celebrated pictures, films and photographic sets, as well as 10 new series of photos that have been influenced by the V&A’s collections.

V&A Tim Walker Wonderful Things Exhibition Installation View - 'Lil' Dragon' Section 2 (c) Victoria and Albert Museum, London

William Blake, Tate Britain

Until 2 February 2020

A visionary artist, poet and printmaker, William Blake’s many achievements are celebrated in this major exhibition, which showcases over 300 paintings and prints.

Visitors will also have the chance to experience an immersive recreation of the small room in which Blake showed his artworks in the 1800s, alongside showings of his work on a massive scale – something Blake dreamed of back in the 19th century and that is now possible thanks to digital innovations.

William Blake at Tate Britain, Copyright Tate (Seraphina Neville)

Bridget Riley, Hayward Gallery

23 October 2019–26 January 2020

Bridget Riley is well known for her large-scale, perceptual paintings and this exhibition at the Southbank’s Hayward Gallery celebrates her career over the last 70 years.

You’ll have the opportunity to see some of her acclaimed and perception-altering works such as Continuum, plus some brand new paintings created especially for the gallery.