Rehang: Tate Britain

Tate Britain has had a major rehang and it has dominated the news this week. They've shaken up their permanent collection and provided us with a chronological journey through British art.

I, for one, think this is bloody brilliant (come on, you can't be surprised to see British cliches in a post about British art). There are going to be special displays of some national treasures, including William Blake and Henry Moore. On a personal level, I'm infinitely more excited about the former. Moore kinda freaks me out. It's a 'small head' thing.

See what I mean? Scary.

Anyway, I'm getting distracted. Back to the Tate Britain rehang.

There's just something didactic about a thematic hang, you know? It's as if the visitor is being forced to look at these artworks in context of the curator's reading - and being told that is the only way to read the artworks. Themes can be subjective; but chronology is undeniable. By going down the chronological route, Tate Britain is opening up its collection to its visitors' interpretations, not those of its curators.

And now, the artworks are shown within the context of their own time. They don't have to answer to their predecessors or followers. I know that sounds a little pretentious, but work with me here. By showing the permanent collection like this, each piece is given its place within a socio-historical story. For instance, you're not going to see too many works by female artists before 1900 (although two 17th Century Mary Beales will be on display for the first time). But it's important to actually see the emission of women as artists in order to understand the presence of women as subjects or muses.

Yet, while some things might be surprisingly absent, there will be other parts of this rehang that will shock you just by being there. The Evening Standard has shown two artworks depicting the female nude:

Walter Sickert, La Hollandaise, c.1906

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, A Favourite Custom, 1909

These two pieces will hang side by side; as they were painted just three years apart. Pretty amazing.

The educational element of this new approach is only outdone by the intrigue and questions that lie therein, and I'm racing down there on Saturday to learn a little more.


  1. UPDATE: So I did go to Tate Britain on Saturday, and it was awesome. I've never seen a permanent collection hung like that. In the first room, filled with artworks from the 1540s, you feel very... 'watched'. Almost exclusively, we're looking at portraits of stern faces, often royalty. Kinda shows how portraiture was used to convey a sense of power.

    The other thing I noticed was how quickly art became 'modern'. John Everett Millais and Singer Sargent were added into the mix and you can see how quickly momentum picked up. I only made it to 1920 before having to rush off, but I'll go back and finish my little tour very soon.


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