London viewing

From unseen paintings to rare photography, the must-visit exhibitions coming to the capital this season

Art and Design 25 Apr 2024

Dame Ethel Walker, Decoration: The Excursion of Nausicaa (1920), Tate

Dame Ethel Walker, Decoration: The Excursion of Nausicaa (1920), Tate

Fragile Beauty: Photographs from the Sir Elton John and David Furnish Collection

V&A, 18 May 2024-5 January 2025

In 2016, Tate Modern put some of the photos from Elton John’s private collection on display in The Radical Eye: Modernist Photography from the Sir Elton John Collection. Regarded as one of the world’s greatest private collections of photography and ranging from Brassaï to Breton, Matisse to Picasso, it was breathtaking to think one person owned 150 vintage prints from the classic Modernist period of the 1920s to the 1950s. But Sir Elton is nothing if not generous. So, after the huge success of The Radical Eye, the V&A is presenting another collection of photography on loan from Sir Elton and his husband.

Dakota Hair (2004) by Ryan McGinley will be on show as part of the V&A's Fragile Beauty
Dakota Hair (2004) by Ryan McGinley will be on show as part of the V&A’s Fragile Beauty

More than 300 rare prints from 140 photographers will be showcased, some of them on public display for the first time. The eight sections of the exhibition embrace celebrity – from Marilyn Monroe to Miles Davis – but there is a historical element, too, spanning the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s to 1980s Aids activism and 9/11. On 16 May, there will be an online talk (exclusive to V&A members) by curators Duncan Forbes and Lydia Caston, who will discuss how the collection tells the story of modern and contemporary photography – and, of course, that of the modern world.

The Last Caravaggio

The National Gallery, 18 April-21 July 2024

To celebrate its bicentenary this year, the National Gallery is holding a series of flagship exhibitions, including Van Gogh: Poets and Lovers (14 September 2024-19 January 2025) and Discover Constable & The Hay Wain (17 October 2024-2 February 2025). However, the most tantalising show by far is The Last Caravaggio, which focuses on just two paintings. The main attraction is The Martyrdom of Saint Ursula, which the Baroque artist was working on in Naples in May 1610 when he died in mysterious circumstances. The painting, which is coming to London for the first time in two decades, details the legend of Saint Ursula, who is thought to have travelled with 11,000 virgins to Cologne, where the chief of the Huns fell in love with her and then killed her with an arrow when she rejected him.

Caravaggio’s Salome with the Head of John the Baptist
Caravaggio’s Salome with the Head of John the Baptist

Alongside the painting will be a letter that describes the creation of The Martyrdom of Saint Ursula and the National Gallery’s own Caravaggio, Salome with the Head of John the Baptist, painted around the same time. Caravaggio often inserted himself into his paintings and he is there, looking on as Saint Ursula is murdered, almost as though anticipating his own death.

Now You See Us: Women Artists in Britain 1520-1920

Tate Britain, 16 May-13 October 2024

When the art historian Katy Hessel published her bestselling book The Story of Art without Men in 2022, she pointed out that the Royal Academy of Art had never hosted a solo exhibition by a woman in its main space. Female artists have until very recently been denied both space and critical praise – as well as many being simply forgotten or their work being attributed to men – but Now You See Us goes some way to redressing the balance. Spanning 400 years and including over 150 works, it takes in Tudor times and World War I and upends expectations with paintings of battle scenes and nudes, typically perceived to be the domain of male artists.

Standing Female Nude by Mary Moser (1744–1819)
Standing Female Nude by Mary Moser (1744–1819)

It’s worth mentioning that Tate Modern is doing its bit, too, with Yoko Ono: Music of the Mind, which runs until 1 September and celebrates the artist and activist’s advocacy for world peace via over 200 of her conceptual works. Also on at Tate Modern, running from 6 June 2024-26 January 2025, is an eponymous exhibition of 260 photographs by the South African photographer Zanele Muholi. The images document their country’s Black lesbian, gay, trans, queer and intersex communities and explore the violence the community has faced. As such, the images are often intense and challenging, but it’s an unmissable show.