Britain’s best rural art galleries and exhibitions

Take a trip into the UK countryside and enjoy local and internationally acclaimed art at a county gallery

Audley End, Essex

We’ve selected some of the best rural art galleries from around the UK, from country houses to museums of modern art.

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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, the provincial outpost of the famous London art gallery built in 1993, standing above Porthmeor Beach.
The Tate St Ives standing above Porthmeor Beach ©Getty

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.

Singing Ringing Tree, Burnley, Lancashire

2. MOMA (Museum of Modern Art), Machynlleth, Powys

Powys, Machynlleth, wide view over town and surrounding hills
MOMA sit in the centre of Machynlleth on the edge of Snowdonia National Park ©Getty

‘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 Forest by Thomas Gainsborough, oil incanvas
Thomas Gainsborough lived from 1776-1837 ©Getty

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

Visitors outside the Anglican Church of St. Mary the Virgin at Clumber Park, a country park in the Dukeries near Worksop in Nottinghamshire. (Visitors outside the Anglican Church of St. Mary the Virgin at Clumber Park, a country park in the Dukeries n
On your trip to The Harley Gallery, also visit the Anglican Church of St Mary the Virgin at Clumber Park, a country park in the Dukeries ©Getty

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

Lady Lever Art Gallery
Lady Lever Art Gallery in Port Sunlight ©Steve Daniels

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

The harbour at Kirkcudbright
The harbour at Kirkcudbright ©Walter Baxter

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

Stromness, second largest town on Orkney Islands, Scotland
Stromness is the second most populated town in Orkney, home to the Pier Arts Centre ©Getty

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

Kingston Lacy, Dorset
The Spanish Room at Kingston Lacy, Dorset. This room was created between 1838 and 1855 to display the Spanish paintings acquired by William Bankes ©National Trust Images

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

Mount Stewart, County Down
The West Stairs at Mount Stewart, County Down ©National Trust Images

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

Drumlanrig Castle, Dumfries
Drumlanrig Castle, Dumfries ©National Trust Images

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

Audley End, Essex
Audley End, Essex ©National Trust Images

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

Basildon Park, Berkshire
The Green Drawing Room at Basildon Park, Berkshire ©National Trust Images

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

Snowshill Manor, Cotswolds
Part of the collection of Javanese and Balinese (Wagang and Topeng) theatre masks in Seraphim, Snowshill Manor ©National Trust Images

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, West Sussex
The North Gallery at Petworth House and Park, West Sussex ©National Trust Images

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

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Words: Helen Moat and Margaret Bartlett