We’ve selected some of the best rural art galleries from around the UK, from country houses to museums of modern art.
Our top picks includes paintings by Thomas Gainsborough, Barbara Hepworth, Titian and George Barret, along with a number of inspiring exhibitions.
1. Tate St Ives, Cornwall
The Tate St Ives dominates this small seaside town of winding alleys and fishermen’s cottages; the recently doubled-in-size museum making a big statement on the site of the old gasworks overlooking Porthmeor Beach. Inside, the galleries showcase the best of the avant-garde St Ives School, including Barbara Hepworth and Ben Nicholson.
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2. MOMA (Museum of Modern Art), Machynlleth, Powys
‘The Ancient Capital of Wales’ sits on the edge of Snowdonia National Park. Along with its soaring clock tower, the market town is known for its gallery of Welsh art and artists housed in an old Wesleyan chapel. Look out for Ann Arnold, champion of the countryside and member of the Brotherhood of Ruralists. Learn more about MOMA.
3. Gainsborough House, Sudbury, Suffolk
Gainsborough’s handsome Georgian home and historic gardens lie at the heart of the Suffolk market town and are filled with his manuscripts, prints, etchings, portraiture and artefacts. Linger in the entrance hall and parlour Gainsborough House, with its canvases of rural Suffolk painted in the 1750s, to appreciate this master of the 18thCentury landscape.
4. The Harley Gallery, Welbeck, Nottinghamshire
The Dukeries, including Welbeck, are a rich vein of parkland, forest and stately homes slicing through the Nottinghamshire coalfields. Catch an exhibition in the purpose-built Harley Gallery.
5. Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight, Merseyside
Entrepreneur and philanthropist, William Hesketh Lever, commissioned this grand classical museum – Lady Lever Art Gallery – to house his ever-burgeoning art collection in the model village of Port Sunlight. Among the internationally recognised pre-Raphaelites and Wedgwood jasperware there are some fine British landscape paintings, including Constable and Turner.
6. Kirkcudbright Galleries, Dumfries & Galloway
Kirkcudbright’s town hall, grand and self-important on the outside but bright and welcoming inside, was recently converted to house the growing works of this historic ‘artists’ town’ on the River Dee. The Kirkcudbright Galleries collection includes nationally important paintings from the nineteenth-century Scottish Colourists, also known as the ‘Scottish Impressionists.’
7. Pier Arts Centre, Stromness, Orkney
The converted merchant’s house, stores and offices – a bold mix of glass, metal and rustic stone – jostle for position on the waterfront of this mainland Orkney town. Inside Pier Arts Centre, a small but impressive collection of twentieth-century art sits side-by-side with local work depicting the wild Orkney sea-and-landscapes beyond the sheltered harbour.
8. Kingston Lacy, Dorset
The legacy of the Bankes family, this lavishly decorated 17th-century manor contains one of the country’s most remarkable private art collections. Works by Titian, Van Dyck and Tintoretto grace the walls; don’t miss the room full of ancient Egyptian relics.
9. Mount Stewart, County Down
Reopened after a three-year restoration project, the House at Mount Stewart has many of the Londonderry family treasures on display, including over 200 years’ worth of family silver, portraits, handcrafted furniture and ceramics. On the west stairs is George Stubbs’ masterpiece of racing horse Hambletonian.
10. Drumlanrig Castle, Dumfries
The Douglas family seat is home to the impressive Buccleuch Collection. Beside Rembrandt van Rijn’s 1655 masterpiece An Old Woman Reading, hang family portraits by Reynolds and Gainsborough. Open from 19 April.
11. Audley End, Essex
This Jacobean mansion houses a fascinating collection, mostly amassed in the 19th century by Richard, 3rd Baron Braybrooke. Many Old Masters are on display plus a number of early English portraits, and an intriguing taxidermy collection.
12. Basildon Park, Berkshire
Immerse yourself in a Grand Tour of Europe with treasures from the Brinsley Ford Collection, including Old Masters and 20th-century engravings. On long-term loan to the National Trust, the collection complements the baroque and rococo works collected by Lord and Lady Iliffe.
13. Snowshill Manor, Cotswolds
You could spend hours poring over Snowshill Manor’s curious collection of quirky objects from around the world. The lifelong work of passionate collector Charles Paget Wade, every room is themed and filled with hundreds of objects, from masks and suits of armour to toys and musical instruments. Open from 18 March.
15. Petworth House, West Sussex
Petworth House’s grand state rooms house the National Trust’s finest art collection. This month it hosts Prized Possessions, a celebration of Dutch art of the ‘Golden Age’, bringing together nearly two dozen 17th-century paintings from NT properties around the country; until 24 March.
Main image: Sir Thomas Gainsborough statue in Sudbury ©Getty
Words: Helen Moat and Margaret Bartlett