London’s hidden art collections and how to visit them

London is filled to the brim with galleries and exhibitions. Art historian Dr Laura-Jane Foley reveals how you can dodge the crowds, enjoy exciting art and maybe spot a Banksy or a Van Gogh as well

5 mins

1: Parliamentary art collection

The Palace of Westminster on Fire, 1834 (

The Palace of Westminster on Fire, 1834 (

This dazzling, yet well-hidden collection contains 8,500 artworks, from the likes of William Marlow, Grayson Perry and Cornelia Parker. The artworks in this collection are commissioned to record those people who have made a significant contribution to UK political life. Art tours can be arranged via or visit on a Saturday or whenever parliament is not sitting to see awe-inspiring artworks like Mary Branson’s 6-metre high light sculpture ‘New Dawn’ above the entrance to St Stephen’s Hall.

2: Auction houses

Sotheby’s in London (Shutterstock)

Sotheby’s in London (Shutterstock)

For every major art auction there are public viewing days which are free to attend at the big auction houses, like Christies, Sotheby’s and Phillips. These are a great place to see rare old masters usually hidden away in private collections. Recent highlights include the Banksy shredding at Sotheby’s in London, Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi at Christies in New York and the spectacular Rockefeller Collection (which included showstopper works by Matisse and Monet) at Christies in London. 

Check individual websites for viewing dates and times and enjoy seeing these multi-million pound artworks in real life – but be careful not to get carried away when the auctioneer has his gavel in the air!

3: The Hannah Barry Gallery in Peckham

Way To Make A Ship Walk exhibition (Hannah Barry Gallery)

Way To Make A Ship Walk exhibition (Hannah Barry Gallery)

Founded in 2008 by the dynamic gallerist Hannah Barry, the gallery grew out of a series of temporary exhibition projects in South London before establishing a permanent home in Peckham. This beautiful gallery is a great place to discover exciting new work by international emerging contemporary artists. This is the place to visit to discover the household names of the future. You’ll find the Hannah Barry Gallery 4 Holly Grove, Peckham. It’s open Tuesday-Saturday 11am-6pm. For more details about current and upcoming exhibitions visit

4: Public art sculpture

Barbara Hepworth’s sculpture ‘Winged Figure’ on John Lewis building (Dreamstime)

Barbara Hepworth’s sculpture ‘Winged Figure’ on John Lewis building (Dreamstime)

It’s not just art galleries which are filled with incredible artworks. Just walking through the streets of London you can find some incredible sculptures. My favourites include Barbara Hepworth’s sculpture ‘Winged Figure’  (1963) high up on John Lewis on Oxford Street. The 19ft high sculpture has been watching over shoppers for over fifty years. 

Further east, ‘Quantum Cloud’ (1999) by Antony Gormley can be found next to the Millennium Dome (also known as the O2 Arena). The sculpture is over 30 metres high and is taller than his famous Angel of the North sculpture which stands by the A1 in Gateshead. On a smaller scale is ‘Three Standing Figures’ (1947) a beautiful 7ft high stone sculpture by Henry Moore at Battersea Park on the bank of the River Thames.

5: The Perimeter

Gallery awaiting art  (

Gallery awaiting art (

Housed in a stunning architect-designed five-floor mews building, The Perimeter is a private collection of contemporary art in Bloomsbury. Charismatic young collector Alexander Petalas has assembled a vast, eclectic art collection. The Perimeter includes exhibition space, storage facilities and a library. The artwork on display changes frequently. Artists currently on display include Turner Prize winners Tomma Abts and Wolfgang Tillmans and Young British Artist Sarah Lucas. Visitors are welcome but must pre-book through the website

Dr Laura-Jane Foley  is  an Oxbridge Art Historian, polymath and playwright. Her acclaimed podcast, My Favourite Work of Art , has been described as a ‘Desert Island Discs for art lovers’ and can be downloaded from Apple Podcasts on 21st August at

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