John Singer Sargent, Mrs. Carl Meyer and her Children, 1896, Oil on canvas, 201.4 x 134 cm, Private collection.

Zineb Sedira, Floating Coffins, 2009, videostill, © the artist.

A History of British Art Shaped by Migrations of Artists and Ideas

James Tissot, Portsmouth Dockyard, c.1877, © Tate.

Lubaina Himid, Between the Two My Heart is Balanced, 1991, Tate, © Lubaina Himid.

Sir Anthony Van Dyck (1599-1641), Charles I (1600-49) in three positions, 1635, Oil on canvas, 84.4 x 99.4 cm, Painted for Charles I; eventually acquired by George IV in 1822.


Tate Britain
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Journeys into British Art

January 31-August 15, 2012

Migrations: Journeys into British Art explores how British art has been shaped by migration. Featuring artists from Van Dyck, Whistler and Mondrian to Steve McQueen and Francis Alÿs, Migrations traces not only the movement of artists, but the circulation of art and ideas.

Beginning with works from the 16th and 17th centuries, the exhibition shows that much British art from this period was made by artists from abroad, including Antwerp-born Anthony Van Dyck, the court painter whose famous portraits such as Charles I, 1636 (The Chequers Trust) have come to shape our perceptions of the British aristocracy of this time. It also explores the establishment of the Royal Academy, with works by Swiss-Austrian Angelica Kaufmann, Anglo-American Benjamin West, and others fundamental to its foundation in 1768. Artists were involved in an extensive interchange of ideas between Britain, France, and America in the late 19th century, as demonstrated in works such as John Singer Sargent’s Mrs. Carl Meyer and her Children, 1896. Other important figures who marked the course of British Art include Piet Mondrian, Naum Gabo and Laszlo Maholy-Nagy, who sought refuge in Britain while escaping political unrest and war in Europe in the 1930s and 1940s.

Artists from the 50s and 60s who moved to the UK from the commonwealth, conceptual artists who considered themselves "stateless" global citizens rather than tied any one place, and groups such as the Black Audio Film Collective, whose work sought to unearth the possibilities of being both "Black" and "British" in the 1980s, will show how British art has, directly or indirectly, come to reflect a much wider international stage over time. The exhibition features recent work by contemporary artists who use the moving image as a versatile tool for both documenting and questioning reality, including Zineb Sedira’s 14-screen installation Floating Coffins, 2009 and Steve McQueen’s Static, 2009, which probes ideas of freedom and migration through the potent symbol of the Statue of Liberty.

Over 500 years, developments in transport, new artistic institutions, politics and economics have all contributed to artists choosing to settle temporarily or permanently in Britain. Migrations examines how British art has been informed by a long and intricate history of the movement of people to and from the country, raising questions about the formation of a national collection of British art against a continually shifting demographic.

The exhibition is curated by a group of Tate curators headed by Lizzie Carey-Thomas (Curator, Contemporary British Art).


Steve McQueen, Static, videostill, 35 mm film transferred to HD, approximately 7 minutes, continuous loop.


Keith Piper, Go West Young Man, 1987, Tate, © Keith Piper.