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2013 - the year in review: The best visual arts of the year


Lowry and the Painting of Modern Life

Tate Britain finally made its peace with the artist it has so long ignored with a major retrospective of a painter the public has always loved and the art establishment has only slowly begun to appreciate. The world of back-to-back houses, hurrying crowds and smoking factories brought to life in a style at once idiosyncratic, primitive and profound.

Masterpieces of Chinese Painting 700-1900

Very rarely can you say of a show that it is “once in a lifetime”. This was it. A gathering of masterpieces at the V&A that not only revealed the course of art in one of its great centres but also brought you face to face with the artists who made it what it was. Incomparable.

Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum

A model of an archaeological exhibition at the British Museum, recreating the domestic world and stylish goods of the wealthy inhabitants of the cities blotted out by Vesuvius’ eruption in 79AD. Back in Italy the ruins are in decay, here they were displayed in all their freshness of instant destruction.

Turner and the Sea

For Turner, the sea was elemental and magnificent in its surging power and still calm. The artist’s ceaseless experimentation and breathtaking boldness portrayed in the first ever proper show of Turner’s marine works. At National Maritime Museum, Greenwich – why has no public gallery ever done it before?

Houghton Revisited, Houghton Hall

Britain’s first and most venal Prime Minister amassed one of the great art collections in Europe only to have his descendants sell it off to Catherine the Great of Russia to pay off the debts incurred in building his Norfolk mansion. Brought back from the Hermitage and hung as they were, it made for a glorious and much extended show.

Discovery of the Year

Bruce Munro at Waddesdon Manor, Buckinghamshire

The great houses of Britain are moving into art commissions and display. Munro as artist in residence at the National Trust’s Waddesdon shows just what can be done with light installations. His Winter Light is quite magical.

Turkey of the Year

Art Under Attack: Histories of British Iconoclasm (Tate Britain, 2 October to 5 January 2014)

The latest in a line of anaemic thematic shows by the Tate. The title was strong, the contents too disconnected to work.