Top 5 UK art masterpieces | VisitBritain

Britain’s top 5 masterpieces

Legendary works of art

Great Bed of Ware

Victoria and Albert Museum, London

© V&A Images

See the handiwork of masters on show in Britain’s galleries and museums, from pre-Raphaelite paintings to Viking carvings, and even the most enormous bed you’ve ever seen. It’s hard to pick highlights as there’s so much to see. But be sure to see this unmissable five.

What: Great Bed of Ware, 1590
Where: Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Why
: So famous it gets a mention in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, this huge three-metre-wide four poster bed is covered in intricate carvings and still bears graffiti and wax seals from numerous sleepers. It’s presumed the bed was made as a curiosity to attract customers to one of the inns at Ware, Hertfordshire and the sense of history oozing from its plumped pillows is intoxicating.

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What: Whaam! by Roy Lichtenstein, 1963
Where: Tate Modern, London
Why:
Widely regarded as one of Lichtenstein’s finest pictures, the searing colours, comic-style script and onomatopoeic Whaam that describes a jet fighter firing on another aircraft is pure Pop Art and one of Tate Modern’s most distinctive and arresting pieces.

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What: Christ of Saint John of the Cross by Salvador Dali, 1951
Where: Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery, Glasgow, Scotland
Why:
This Surrealist interpretation of the crucifixion is painted at a disconcerting angle showing the outstretched Christ, free from nails and wounds, swooping over a placid blue background. The painting combines an eerie contrast of light and dark with magical effects to make an unforgettable impression.

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What: Lewis Chessmen, 12th-13th century
Where:  National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh, Scotland
Why:
Found on Lewis in 1831, these exquisitely carved figures are probably the most well-known archaeological find from Scotland. The chess pieces consist of elaborately worked walrus ivory and whales' teeth in the form of seated kings and queens, bishops, knights on their mounts and other figures. Thought to be made by Scandinavian craftsmen they provide an enchanting insight into Viking and Scottish culture.

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What: The Last of England by Ford Madox Brown, 1855
Where: Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, England
Why:
This poignant portrayal of emigration shows a young family leaving Britain behind them forever. And with the White Cliffs of Dover shrinking into the distance, the subjects’ blanched but determined faces and bundled up children, it’s impossible not to be moved by the power of the story the picture tells. There are two versions of the painting, one in Birmingham and one in Cambridge.

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