Britain is home to works of art by some of the most important painters of all time, from J.M.W Turner to Salvador Dali.
These masterpieces hang in some equally magnificent buildings that are worth visiting alone for their architectural splendour.
Here we pick nine unmissable masterpieces and show you where to find them…
A haunting portrayal of a doomed monarch
Jewel in the crown: Windsor Castle, which houses some of the finest portraits from the Royal Collection
Experts say Van Dyck’s triple view of Charles I (above) captures the vanity and arrogance of the monarch who would lead the country into a long civil war
Charles I In Three Positions: The perfect place to view one of the world’s most famous Royal portraits is in the Queen’s Drawing Room at Windsor Castle. A rich selection of the finest portraits from the Royal Collection is dominated by this haunting portrayal of King Charles I by Anthony van Dyck (rct.uk).
Experts say Van Dyck’s triple view of Charles I captures the vanity and arrogance of the monarch who would lead the country into a long civil war – a conflict that would end in his own execution. This unusual composition was originally intended as a guide for a marble bust of the King by Italian sculptor Bernini – today it seems more reminiscent of a police mugshot.
The work was completed in 1635, seven years before the English Civil War started and 14 years before the King’s demise, but when Bernini viewed the painting his words were prophetic: ‘It is the portrait of a doomed man.’
Check in: The Miller of Mansfield, Goring, Reading. This award-winning restaurant with 13 rooms is a former coaching inn with creaky floors, low beams, open fires and luxurious handmade mattresses. B&B rooms cost from £109 a night (millerofmansfield.com).
Out of this world… Christ and a unique view of earth
The star attraction at Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Art Gallery is Salvador Dali’s ornate masterpiece depicting one of the most controversial Crucifix scenes ever painted
The painting is one of Scotland best-loved (and valuable) treasures. Glasgow Council recently rejected an £80 million offer from the Spanish government
Christ Of St John Of The Cross: The star attraction at Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Art Gallery is Salvador Dali’s ornate masterpiece depicting one of the most controversial Crucifix scenes ever painted (glasgowlife.org.uk/museums).
To create this epic work in 1951, which views Christ from above the Cross and looking down on Earth, the Spanish surrealist used a Hollywood stuntman as a model, whom he suspended for days.
Critics panned it but Glasgow Council boldly paid £8,200 for it in 1952. Locals protested and the painting was twice vandalised.
Now it is one of Scotland best-loved (and valuable) treasures. Glasgow Council recently rejected an £80 million offer from the Spanish government.
Check in: Sherbrooke Castle Hotel, Glasgow. Relax and recline amid tartan interiors, then dine on hearty Scottish classics. B&B rooms cost from £126 a night (sherbrookecastlehotel.com).
An epic memorial to the victims of war
Sandham Memorial Chapel, in Burghclere, was designed to house Sir Stanley Spencer’s magnificent series of 19 vast murals inspired by his First World War experiences as a medical orderly
From War To Resurrection: Discover Hampshire’s little-known version of the Sistine Chapel: a war memorial building designed to house Sir Stanley Spencer’s magnificent series of 19 vast murals inspired by his First World War experiences as a medical orderly.
Spencer devoted six years adorning the Sandham Memorial Chapel, in Burghclere, with his quirky, detailed scenes of everyday life to honour the forgotten dead. Now owned by the National Trust, the working chapel sits in gardens with views of the Hampshire Downs (nationaltrust.org.uk).
The value of Spencer’s work has soared since his death in 1959 – in 2011, a painting sold for £5.4 million, making the collection one of Britain’s most valuable art treasures.
Check in: The Pheasant, Hungerford, Berkshire. Feast on venison and mash at this inn, then head upstairs to chic country bedrooms with balconies overlooking fields. B&B rooms cost from £115 a night (thepheasant-inn.co.uk).
A father’s life in his young son’s hands
Liverpool’s grand Walker Art Gallery houses one of the finest collections outside London, with the highlight being William Frederick Yeames’s work from 1878
And When Did You Last See Your Father? Liverpool’s grand Walker Art Gallery houses one of the finest collections outside London, with the highlight being this work from 1878, so full of portent that it has transfixed viewers for generations. The genius of William Frederick Yeames’s work – an imagined historic depiction of a Royalist boy being questioned by Parliamentarians during the Civil War – is that the outcome remains unknown.
Detailed composition and facial expressions are a nod to Yeames’s study of Renaissance masters such as Raphael while in Florence.
When the painting was unveiled in 1878, critical opinion was at odds with the public who adored it. The then newly opened Walker Art Gallery bought it for £750 (about £100,000 today) and it has remained a star attraction ever since (liverpoolmuseums.org.uk).
Check in: 30 James Street Hotel. The former HQ of the White Star shipping company, which owned the Titanic, is a stroll from the Walker Art Gallery. This luxury hotel offers the glittering decor of a first-class liner. B&B rooms cost from £96 a night (rmstitanichotel.co.uk).
The hell-raising poet as a quiet young man
Portrait Of Dylan Thomas by Augustus John is among Cardiff’s National Museum’s internationally acclaimed art collection
Arguably the 20th Century’s most striking Welsh portrait, this image of poet Dylan Thomas links two iconic cultural figures
Portrait Of Dylan Thomas: Arguably the 20th Century’s most striking Welsh portrait, this image of poet Dylan Thomas links two iconic cultural figures. And it happened only because artist Augustus John persuaded his close friend to sit by handing him a bottle of beer.
The result is a timeless, endearing and deceptively simple portrait hinting at the relaxed relationship between the two Welshmen. And how fitting that it has stayed at Cardiff’s National Museum (museum.wales/cardiff).
Amid an internationally acclaimed art collection, John’s intimate portrayal stands out. The wide-eyed innocence of the boyish poet, with his neat blue scarf tied artfully, upturned jacket collar and tousled red curls, belies his later hell-raising reputation. Thomas was 23 and had just married John’s former mistress, Caitlin Macnamara, despite the two men coming to drunken blows over her.
John painted two portraits of Dylan Thomas in 1937-38 while at the peak of his success. This portrait was gifted to the museum, while the other was recently purchased by London’s National Portrait Gallery for £215,000.
Check in: Hotel Indigo, Cardiff. A short walk from the National Museum is this modern, design-conscious boutique hotel with a top-floor Marco Pierre White steakhouse. B&B rooms cost from £85 a night (ihg.com/hotelindigo).
The masterpiece with a murky past
Grand setting: Chatsworth House contains many of our most important pieces, including Thomas Gainsborough’s lavish portrait of the Duchess of Devonshire, Georgiana Cavendish
Georgiana, Duchess Of Devonshire: Chatsworth House in Derbyshire’s Peak District National Park is among Britain’s most glorious stately homes, but it’s worth a visit simply to view one of the world’s most famous paintings.
Thomas Gainsborough’s lavish portrait of the Duchess of Devonshire, Georgiana Cavendish, has repeatedly hit global headlines in a tangled history of being lost, sold, stolen, smuggled and hidden.
It helped that the subject, the flamboyant Duchess, was a celebrated society hostess, and Gainsborough, a leading artist of his day, painted her many times. In this version, her face is framed by an enormous black hat, which promptly set a trend for similar ‘Gainsborough’ hats.
The work mysteriously vanished in about 1800 but was discovered decades later above an elderly schoolmistress’s fireplace – she had trimmed it at the knees to fit. In 1876 it was sold at Christie’s for 10,000 guineas, a world record at the time.
Shortly afterwards, however, notorious American thief Adam Worth stole and hid it for 25 years. By 1901 it adorned the wall of Wall Street banker J. P. Morgan, and it wasn’t until 1994 that the Duke of Devonshire was able to buy it back for £320,000 and return it to its rightful home (chatsworth.org).
Check in: The Devonshire Arms, Beeley, Derbyshire. This 18-bedroom stone inn within the Chatsworth estate exudes country comfort, and is also dog-friendly. B&B rooms cost from £119.50 a night (devonshirehotels.co.uk).
A thoroughbred at the home of horseracing
Fighting Stallions hangs among our best sporting art collections in Newmarket’s National Heritage Centre for Horseracing, a wide-ranging attraction in Suffolk opened by the Queen in 2016
Fighting Stallions: Where else might you expect to find a masterpiece by the finest-ever painter of horses, other than Newmarket, home of British racing? George Stubbs once spent 18 months dissecting horses to write an acclaimed scientific book on equine anatomy. He was then able to show off his incredible insight in Fighting Stallions, a work from 1791 inspired by a clash between two carriage horses.
Stubbs was largely ignored by the art establishment of his day, but his paintings can now command more than £20 million. Fighting Stallions hangs among our best sporting art collections in Newmarket’s National Heritage Centre for Horseracing, a wide-ranging attraction in Suffolk opened by the Queen in 2016 (palacehousenewmarket.co.uk).
Check in: The Packhorse Inn, Moulton, Newmarket. Enjoy light bites or fresh and creative gourmet menus in this smart riverside country inn with dog-friendly rooms. B&B rooms cost from £125 a night (thepackhorseinn.com).
Mist and mystery from a genius at his peak
The Ulster Museum lies in Belfast’s Botanic Gardens, where art-lovers are drawn to a spectacular, almost impressionist work by J. M. W. Turner
Dawn Of Christianity (The Flight Into Egypt) by J. M. W. Turner
Dawn Of Christianity (The Flight Into Egypt): The Ulster Museum lies in Belfast’s Botanic Gardens, where art-lovers are drawn to this star attraction – a spectacular, almost impressionist work by J. M. W. Turner, one of Britain’s greatest artists.
Turner’s mysterious, misty image of half-submerged buildings and softly defined figures renders Dawn Of Christianity an extraordinary, historically significant painting. While contemporaries loyally painted romantic landscapes, Turner, even in his 60s, was showing himself to be at the peak of his creative prowess, experimenting with innovative techniques.
Even more unusually, he chose a round frame for the painting (which is still intact) as he believed it might ‘agree better with the field of vision’.
It ended up as the highlight of the Ulster collection thanks to a bequest from local shipping magnate Sir Donald Currie in 1913 (nmni.com).
Check in: Fitzwilliam Hotel, Belfast. This glamorous hotel next to the Grand Opera House has a cocktail bar and restaurant loved by the Game Of Thrones cast. Rooms cost from £130 a night, including breakfast and dinner (fitzwilliamhotelbelfast.com).
Perfect depiction of an indomitable spirit
The Rain It Raineth Every Day by Norman Garstin is housed a few yards from the promenade that it depicts – in the charming Penlee House Gallery in Cornwall
The Rain It Raineth Every Day: The sentiment behind this image of west Cornwall’s coastline has made it one of our most popular artworks, and 130 years after it was painted, visitors still wander Penzance Promenade to find the exact location (and often the same weather).
Norman Garstin’s work makes it impossible not to sympathise with the woman struggling with a small child through wind, rain and sea spray. This tribute to the indomitable British spirit is now housed a few yards from the promenade that it depicts – in the charming Penlee House Gallery.
It’s a wonderful place to discover a treasure trove of works created by schools of artists based in Newlyn, St Ives and Lamorna, including Laura and Harold Knight, Stanhope and Elizabeth Forbes, and Lamorna Birch.
The one-eyed Irish teacher Garstin is less well known, but his masterful painting is certainly the most famous in the gallery (penleehouse.org.uk).
Check in: The Summer House, Penzance. This pretty Regency property, decorated with local art, was once a dower house to Penlee House. B&B rooms cost from £95 a night (thesummerhousepenzance.com).