British art may be classified as the visual art produced by artists in the United Kingdom since its formation in 1707. Among the most prominent early British artists were William Hogarth, Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough. Romanticism was a movement which originated in late 18th century and dominated the European art world. Its artists laid emphasis on emotion and individualism as well as glorification of the past and of nature. Britain produced some of the best known painters of the movement including William Blake, J. M. W. Turner and John Constable. The Romantics were followed by the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (PRB), who concentrated on religious, literary and genre subjects executed in a minutely detailed style. The 20th century saw several influential artists from Britain including Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud, who created some of the best known portraits of the era; the sculptor Henry Moore; and the Pop Artist David Hockney. Among the most renowned contemporary British artists are Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst, who belong to a group known as the Young British Artists; and the renowned graffiti artist Banksy. Here are the 10 most famous British artists along with their best known masterpieces.

 

Tracey Emin
Tracey Emin

#10 Tracey Emin

Born: July 3, 1963

Movement: Young British Artists (YBAs)

The Young British Artists is a name given to a loose group of visual artists who first began to exhibit together in London, in 1988. They are known for their openness to materials and processes, shock tactics and entrepreneurial attitude. 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 and confessional. Her best known works include Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963–1995, a tent appliquéd with 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 while she was going through a period of severe depression. Called the “bad girl of British art”, Tracey Emin is among the most renowned contemporary artists. She was named one of the 100 most powerful women in U.K. in 2013 and she is one of just two women to be appointed professor at London’s Royal Academy of Arts, since its foundation in 1768.

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

Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963-1995
Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963-1995 – Tracey Emin

Other Famous Works:-

My Bed (1998)

You Forgot to Kiss my Soul (2007)

 

Henry Moore
Henry Moore

#9 Henry Moore

Lifespan: July 30, 1898 – August 31, 1986

Movement: Modernism

Modernism was an art movement characterised by the deliberate departure from tradition and the use of innovative forms of expression. Henry Moore, along with his professional rival Barbara Hepworth, was a pioneer in the field of modern sculpture and he is considered among the greatest sculptors of the 20th century. While studying at the Leeds School of Art, Moore and Hepworth became friends and developed a friendly professional rivalry that would last for many years. The influence they exerted on each other’s work was not only important in the development of their careers but also instrumental in the rise of Modernism in the British art scene. Henry Moore is best known for his semi-abstract monumental bronze sculptures which are located around the world as public works of art. His forms are usually abstractions of the human figure; and are generally pierced or contain hollow spaces. Henry Moore was a worldwide celebrity by the 1940s and he exerted direct influence on several generations of sculptors.

Masterpiece: Reclining Figures (1930s–1980s)

Large Reclining Figure (1984)
Large Reclining Figure (1984) – Henry Moore

Other Famous Works:-

King and Queen (1957)

Bird Basket (1939)

 

Lucian Freud
Lucian Freud

#8 Lucian Freud

Lifespan: December 8, 1922 – July 20, 2011

Movement: Realism

Grandson of the famous Austrian neurologist Sigmund Freud, Lucian Freud is renowned for his unflinching observations of anatomy and psychology; and for the psychic intensity of his portraits. His early paintings are associated with German Expressionism and Surrealism due to their depictions of subjects in unusual juxtapositions. However, he later dedicated himself to figurative realism. 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 and uncertain 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. His notoriously long sessions with his sitters have been compared with the psychoanalytic practice of his grandfather Sigmund Freud. 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.

Masterpiece: Benefits Supervisor Sleeping (1995)

Benefits Supervisor Sleeping (1995)
Benefits Supervisor Sleeping (1995) – Lucian Freud

Other Famous Works:-

Reflection (Self-portrait) (1985)

Kate Moss (2002)

 

Damien Hirst
Damien Hirst

#7 Damien Hirst

Born: June 7, 1965

Movement: Young British Artists (YBAs)

YBAs dominated the art scene in the UK during the 1990s. The most successful of them became highly rich, none more so than Damien Hirst. Internationally renowned, Hirst is reportedly the richest living artist in the United Kingdom, 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 are preserved 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. In 2008, Hirst solo show raised £111 million ($198 million), breaking the record for a one-artist auction. Though there is much discussion on the merit of his art, 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)

The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living (1991)
The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living (1991) – Damien Hirst

Other Famous Works:-

For the Love of God (2007)

Mother and Child Divided (1993)

 

John Constable
John Constable

#6 John Constable

Lifespan: June 11, 1776 – March 31, 1837

Movement: Romanticism

Romantic English artists favoured landscape and the most influential among these was John Constable. Constable 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 rebelled against the Neoclassical style; which used standard practices while creating landscape art and mostly used it to display historical and mythical scenes. He instead focussed on nature itself to bring out its beauty and power. 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. He once wrote, “I would rather be a poor man in England than a rich man abroad.” John Constable made an invaluable contribution to the genre of landscape painting and he produced some of the most captivating pictures of England by any artist ever.

Masterpiece: The Hay Wain (1821)

The Hay Wain (1821)
The Hay Wain (1821) – John Constable

Other Famous Works:-

Flatford Mill (Scene on a Navigable River) (1816)

The Lock (1824)

 

Francis Bacon
Francis Bacon

#5 Francis Bacon

Lifespan: October 28, 1909 – April 28, 1992

Movement: Expressionism

Francis Bacon was an Irish artist known for his bold, grotesque, emotionally charged 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 focussed his energies on portraiture. His subjects are always violently distorted and isolated in geometrical cage like spaces. He best known artworks depict popes, crucifixions and portraits of close friends. Francis Bacon created some of the most iconic images of traumatized humanity in post-war art. He is regarded as one of the most important artists of the twentieth century. In 2013, his painting Three Studies of Lucian Freud was sold for US$142.4 million, which at the time was the highest price attained at auction for a work of art when not factoring in inflation.

Masterpiece: Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (1944)

Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (1944)
Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (1944) – Francis Bacon

Other Famous Works:-

Study after Velazquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X (1953)

Three Studies of Lucian Freud (1969)

 

David Hockney
David Hockney

#4 David Hockney

Born: June 7, 1965

Movement: Pop Art

Pop Art was an influential twentieth century art movement which challenged traditions of fine art by including imagery from popular culture. David Hockney is regarded as one of most prominent figures of the Pop Art movement and his 1967 painting A Bigger Splash is an iconic work of Pop Art. Hockney focusses on personal subject matter; and depicts scenes from his own life and that of friends. His famous works include swimming pools, split-level homes and suburban Californian landscapes. Hockney is openly gay and several paintings by him; including Domestic Scene, Los Angeles; explore homosexuality. In 1990, Hockney was offered a knighthood but he declined. However, in January 2012, he accepted the Order of Merit from Queen Elizabeth II. 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)

A Bigger Splash by David Hockney
A Bigger Splash (1967) – David Hockney

Other Famous Works:-

Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy (1971)

A Bigger Grand Canyon (1998)

 

William Blake
William Blake

#3 William Blake

Lifespan: November 28, 1757 – August 12, 1827

Movement: Romanticism

William Blake, widely recognized as one of the greatest poets in the English language, was also among the most original visual artists of the Romantic era. Blake claimed to experience visions throughout his life. He revered the Bible but was hostile to the Church of England and organized religion in general. Blake created numerous illustrations of biblical texts. He was also influenced by the texts of writers like Dante, Shakespeare and Milton. Woking primarily in engravings, Blake created illustrations of mythical worlds full of gods and powers; and sharply criticized the effects of the industrial revolution and the suppression of individualism. The visionary art of Blake, and his use of image and text to convey a single concept, played a key role in not only Romanticism but several future art movements well into the 20th century. William Blake was largely unrecognised during his lifetime. However, recently he was ranked 38 in the BBC’s poll of the 100 Greatest Britons and was called “far and away the greatest artist Britain has ever produced”.

Masterpiece: Newton (1795)

Newton (1795) - William Blake
Newton (1795) – William Blake

Other Famous Works:-

The Ancient of Days (1794)

Nebuchadnezzar (1805)

 

Banksy
Banksy

#2 Banksy

Born: 1974

Movement: Graffiti Art

Graffiti Art; art created on a wall or other surface, often illicitly; come to the forefront as a modern art movement in the second half of the 20th century. Banksy is an anonymous graffiti artist and there remains much speculation about his identity and biographical details due to his massive popularity. He began his career in the 1990s in the Bristol underground scene. Banksy’s works of political and social commentary have been featured on streets, walls and bridges 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. His Balloon Girl was ranked as the favorite artwork in United Kingdom in a 2017 Samsung poll. The popularity of Banksy has led to recognition of many other important artists in the field of graffiti art. He was awarded the Person of the Year at the 2014 Webby Awards. Banksy is the most famous graffiti artist and he has without a doubt made the biggest contribution in making street art popular. Presently, he is perhaps the best known British artist.

Masterpiece: Balloon Girl (2002)

Balloon Girl (2002) - Banksy
Balloon Girl (2002) – Banksy

Other Famous Works:-

Flower Thrower (2003)

Pulp Fiction (2002)

 

Joseph Mallord William Turner
Joseph Mallord William Turner

#1 J.M.W. Turner

Lifespan: April 23, 1775 – December 19, 1851

Nationality: English

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 considered low art. Turner, with his application of poetic and imaginative approach to landscape art, elevated the genre to rival history painting. His dedication to render heightened states of consciousness and being, helped define the Romanticism movement. Turner is known for his mastery in capturing the effects of colour and light which made him famous as “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 with mere suggestion of movement. These abstractions are considered ahead of his time and were a forerunner to the hugely influential artistic movement Impressionism. A deeply experimental and progressive painter, J.M.W. Turner was a key figure of Romanticism who deeply influenced future generation of artists. The Turner Prize, the best-known visual arts award in Britain, is appropriately named after him.

Masterpiece: The Fighting Temeraire (1839)

The Fighting Temeraire (1839) - J.M.W. Turner
The Fighting Temeraire tugged to her last berth to be broken up (1839) – J.M.W. Turner

Other Famous Works:-

Rain, Steam and Speed (1844)

The Slave Ship (1840)

3 COMMENTS

  1. Goos list but I think the order is wrong in places. I think Turner is good but not the best. Constable is a lot better than (6). His work up sketches today are regarded as masterpieces in their own right. What is immediately apparent is the Britain produced a lot of good artists in the twentieth century.

  2. No, he is not an Irishman. He was born in Ireland; but being born in a stable does not make a man a horse.
    He was born in Dublin, to English parents, and spent his childhood in Kildare but left Ireland as a teenager and spent the rest of his life in London. There is also no hint of Irish influence in his paintings and, in the international art market, Francis Bacon is classified as a British artist.

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