The Tate is not one museum but a a network of art galleries. There's the Tate Britain, home to a vast collection of the landscape artist Joseph Turner, and the Tate Modern, home to international, modern and contemporary art from 1500 to today. There are also "Tates" in Liverpool and St. Ives. Until the year 2000, Tate Britain was known as the Tate Gallery. Confused yet?
Think of it like this — when Brits talk about the "Tate", they are usually referring to the Tate Modern, and that's what we'll cover in this article. It is considered Britain's national museum of modern art and is housed in the former Bankside Power Station on the River Thames. Here's the place to see masterpieces for free by Cézanne, Matisse, Picasso, Sargent, Dali, Pollock, and Warhol.
A great piece of advice is to plan in advance and then seek out the works that most interest you.
Then, after an hour or two, pause for lunch or a coffee in the cafe or restaurant. It's also a good idea to check the museum's events listings to see what special exhibitions are showing.
There are plenty of good reasons to take a guided tour of the museum. First of all, of course, is that it's free and you don't need to prebook! Tours are offered daily at 11 am, noon, 2 pm, and 3 pm. Each tour is about 45 minutes long and focuses on a different area from the collections chosen by art-expert guides.
In 1889 Henry Tate, a rich industrialist who had made his fortune in sugar, sent a letter to the National Gallery offering his British art collection.
His conditions were specific — a room must be set aside for the display and it must be known as the Tate Collection. He would have no idea that one day over 70,000 artworks from 3,000 artists would be housed in his museum. Of the 70K, here are our top ten.
1. The Lady of Shalott, John William Waterhouse, 1888
This melancholy painting depicts Tennyson's tragic Victorian ballad, The Lady of Shalott, based on Arthurian legend. Beside her are three candles, often used to symbolize life. Two have blown out, suggesting her life will end soon. View…
2. Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose, John Singer Sargent, 1885-6
It was during a boating expedition on the Thames that Sargent was inspired by Chinese lanterns hanging among trees and lilies. A sketchbook at the Fogg Museum includes his drawings that show the precise poses he required for the girls' profiles. View…
3. A Bigger Splash, David Hockney, 1967
It's his largest and most striking of his "splash" paintings. Hockney said, "When you photograph a splash, you're freezing a moment.. I realise that a splash could never be seen this way in real life... so I painted it in a very, very slow way." View…
4. The Kiss, August Rodin, 1901-04
It's one of only three full-scale versions made by Rodin. The couple are the adulterous lovers who were slain by Francesca's outraged husband in Dante's Inferno and condemned to wander eternally through Hell.
5. The Three Dancers, Pablo Picasso, 1925
The jagged forms are an explosion of energy and is rich with Picasso's memories of his triangular love affair, which resulted in the suicide of his friend Carlos Casagemas
6. The Snack Bar, Edward Burra, 1930
Burra was an acute observer of the everyday, often exaggerating his subjects into caricature. The woman is probably a prostitute, as the artist said, "Soho tarts were mostly French around 1930 and dressed and made up just like that". View…
7. Giovanna Baccelli, Thomas Gainsborough, 1782
She is the Italian dancer Baccelli, the principal ballerina in London at the King's Theatre in 1774. This portrait is a good example of Gainsborough's mature style, with its small, quick, light brushstrokes. View…
8. Composition with Yellow, Blue and Red, Piet Mondrian, 1937–42
Mondrian's interest in the abstract started as far back as 1914 when he eliminated curved lines from his repertoire. By 1916 he stopped using subjects in his paintings. View…
9. The Sick Child, Edvard Munch, 1907
The Nazis declared Munch's art as degenerate and in 1938, all his works were collected in Berlin for auction. A Norwegian art dealer secured as many paintings as possible, including The Sick Child, and kept them safely in Oslo. View…
10. Water Lilies, Claude Monet, 1916
On loan from the National Gallery, Monet's almost abstract waterlilies show his fascination with light's effect on the natural world. To see his masterpiece in person will send shivers down your spine. View…
Located on the seventh floor of the Tate Modern, the Kitchen is famous for its spectacular views and high-quality museum food.
Service begins at breakfast and offers continual service including afternoon tea and dining on Fridays and Saturdays evenings. It's recommended to book in advance for lunch and dinner (dinner Friday & Saturday only).
If you're pressed for time consider the Tate Cafe located on Level One. It's relaxed atmosphere and hearty cuisine have given it the distinction of being named the Best Family Restaurant in the Time Out Eating & Drinking Awards. Special bonus, kids eat for free when Mum or Dad orders a main course. Breakfast, lunch, and all day menus are available.
• The statue on top of the Tate is a Britannia flanked by a lion and a unicorn to emphasize the Gallery's focus on British art.
• When the Tate first opened in 1897 visitors had to leave at 4 pm (or earlier in winter) when the natural light from the windows waned. Electric lighting was finally installed in 1935.
• On January 7, 1928 the Tate was hit by one of the worst disasters in its history, when the River Thames flooded. The lower galleries were covered in 8 feet of water! Eighteen works of art were destroyed.
• During World War I art was moved to Aldwych tube station to protect it against Zeppelin attacks.
• The Tate was bombed several times during World War II and suffered serious damage. Most of the art was evacuated to safe locations at the outbreak of the war. The museum closed in 1939 and didn't open again until 1946.
• The Tate Modern's current home is the converted Bankside power station. Work started in 1996 and completed in 2000. Its striking single central chimney is often referred to as an industrial cathedral.
• A massive extension to the Tate, in planning since 1998, was scheduled to be open for the London Olympics in 2012, but only finally opened in 2016!