If you are generally into art and it is your first time in Britain, remember that some of the greatest artists from the past centuries or in our times were born here. From J.K. Rowling to David Hockney or William Blake, there is plenty to learn about them and their artworks.
Because they built our contemporary culture as we know it today, we compiled a list of some of the most famous British artists (we couldn’t list them all!). Writers, painters, or potters, women or men, this wrapup will help you better understand our cultural heritage.
Needless to introduce the mother of the world-famous wizard, J.K. Rowling. Born in 1965 near Bristol, Joanne Rowling (her real name) started to write the first volume of the Harry Potter saga in 1990, and it took her six years to achieve it. Then she randomly picked her agent Christopher Little, who fell in love with her manuscript and rapidly signed her on as his client. You know the rest of the story. You can even join our Harry Potter Studio Tour, only 20 minutes from London.
Joseph Mallord William Turner
Joseph Turner entered the Royal Academy of Arts (RA) in 1789 and revealed his first artwork at age 15. Known as ‘the painter of light’, he has always added brilliant colours to his landscapes and seascapes. His works are a mixture of watercolours, oils and engravings such as Rain, Steam and Speed, Snow Storm: Hannibal and his Army Crossing the Alps, or Calais Pier.
Considered one of the greatest artists in Britain in the 18th century, William Hogarth was known for his series of paintings of ‘modern moral subjects’ of which he sold engravings on subscription. Inspired by the French style, you may know some of his notable artworks like Marriage A-la-Mode, A Rake’s Progress, and A Harlot’s Progress.
You probably know or have heard of the stories of Beatrix Potter! This year actually marks Peter Rabbit’s 120th anniversary, a tale translated into 36 different languages and one of the world’s best-selling books. Born in 1866, Beatrix Potter was an English writer, illustrator, natural scientist, and conservationist. Over the centuries, her stories have given thousands of tourists a reason to visit Lake District and its stunning countryside.
Born in 1757 in London, William Blake was a professional engraver before enrolling in RA to study painting. On top of that, he was a remarkable poet with Romantic or Pre-Romantic influences. His spiritual mindset also influenced his life and artworks and you may have seen Songs of Innocence and of Experience, The Four Zoas or Jerusalem.
Born in 1776 in Suffolk, John Constable was known for his revolutionary landscape paintings of the Romantic movement and was inspired by artists like Rubens, Gainsborough, Carracci, and Lorrain. In the early 19th century, he made stunning pieces like The White House, displayed in New York City or The Hay Wain which measures 130.2cm × 185.4cm. You can see this artwork exhibited in The National Gallery in London.
Born in 1950 in Kenya, Magdalene Odundo grew up in Britain and is today a renowned studio potter based in Surrey. Her most popular ceramics are handmade using coiling in which each piece is burnished, covered with slip, and burnished again. She taught her art in London at the Commonwealth Institute, the Royal College of Art and returned to the Surrey Institute of Art & Design where she became Professor of Ceramics in 2001.
Originally from Dublin, Francis Bacon lived in London in the 1920s and later, after facing severe addictions, became interested in interior design and started to design oil paintings – like Crucifixion in 1933. Painting motivated the artist to develop his own style, influenced by Pablo Picasso, Rembrandt, and the surrealism movement. Overall, his post-World War II paintings were the most popular as he represented the human figure in an expressive, grotesque style.
World famous street artist since the late 1990s, Banksy began gaining recognition as a graffiti artist while working with DrBreadZ Crew. Exhibited worldwide, his most notable artworks support political and social activities such as Naked, The Policemen Who Kiss, and The Monalisa with the Bazooka. In 2020 he donated Superhero Nurse to Southampton’s University Hospital to thank the frontline health workers.
Jenny Saville has dedicated her career to figurative oil painting. She has been influenced by Freud or Rubens in her artworks, though her paintings are much larger and focus on the female body. In her most notable paintings, Saville focuses on liposuction, traumas, deformity, disease and transgender people.
Damien Hirst grew up in Leeds where he attended the Jacob Kramer School of Art until 1986 when he studied fine art at Goldsmith College and showed a rising interest in death and science. In 1988, he organized an exhibition called Freeze and Young British Artists, a group that revolutionized art during the 90s. In 1991, he showcased his acclaimed series Natural History which showed preserved creatures in formaldehyde solution.
David Hockney has always worn many hats: first a draughtsman, then a painter, printmaker, photographer, and stage designer. Originally from Yorkshire, Hockney attended Bradford School of Art and the Royal College of Art and rapidly became a Pop Art icon. Inspired by Van Gogh, his style evolved throughout the decades from expressionism to naturalism. In 1964, he moved to Los Angeles where he used acrylics and technology as a new medium – and drew a series of swimming pools.
Exploring feminity, Tracey Emin initially studied fashion at Medway College of Design in Margate. Later she opened a shop with another friend artist in Bethnal Green, where she sold artworks as a reflection of her personal experiences, such as My Bed, My Major Retrospective, autobiographical films, and Strangeland, a 2005 memoir. During the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics Games, Emin was selected to create a limited edition print.
Born in 1950 in Baghdad, Iraq, Zaha Hadid was a recognised British-Iraqi architect, artist and designer with a remarkable series of works. She initially studied mathematics as an undergraduate and, in 1972, enrolled at the Architectural Association School of Architecture. Influenced by Suprematism and the Russian avant-garde, Zaha Hadid adopted painting as a design tool and abstraction as a principle to explore Modernism.
Do you want to explore more of these talented artists’ work? Some have their paintings and designs exhibited at The National Gallery or Tate Britain, so have a look at what’s on or book your private tour of the British Museum.