5 of the best art and architecture stops in Bath, England

In the rural county of Somerset lies the charming city of Bath, offering one of the best-preserved sets of Roman baths, as well as some of the finest examples of English architecture – all in the city’s golden-coloured ‘Bath Stone’. For centuries, Bath has been a centre for British culture, boasting the Pride and Prejudice author, Jane Austen, as one of its former residents. Today, the city is home to a number of museums and galleries celebrating native artists, alongside the foreign influences that have long-shaped British culture. Here’s our list of the best art and architecture spots in Bath, England:

Bath

Roman Baths

In the 1st century AD, Romans discovered the Celtic goddess of Sulis upon their invasion of the area; the goddess was worshipped as deity of the local thermal springs. The Romans – most likely wanting to take advantage of the natural wonder for their infamous bathing-culture – identified their own goddess, Minerva, with the Celtic diety, constructing a temple and bathing complex dedicated to the combined goddess. The cult of Sulis Minerva left behind many votive offerings which today are on display in the Roman Baths; the offerings vary from spiteful curse tablets to the opulent gilt bronze head from the goddess’ cult statue. One of the most striking remains of the temple’s architecture is the imposing Gorgon’s head from the pediment. The Grand Pump Room – built in the late 1700s – also attracts visitors for its magnificent neoclassical architecture and fine dining.

Roman Baths

Victoria Art Gallery

After serving as a public library for almost a century, the Victoria Art Gallery was converted into one of Bath’s finest art displays. The gallery’s building is a grand amalgamation of Victorian era interests, with neoclassical features and an effigy of the period’s defining monarch, Queen Victoria. Within the building are five separate galleries, with each displaying pieces from the collection of contemporary art, sculpture, decorative art, and paintings from the 17th century onwards. One of the most impressive areas of the gallery is the Rotunda, a circular hall with an elaborately-decorated dome ceiling depicting the signs of the Zodiac. The large upper gallery houses some of the most valuable works from Bath and North East Somerset Council’s collection, including English artists Walter Sickert and Thomas Gainsborough. The gallery hosts a number of coinciding exhibitions throughout the year; in April and May, artist Harriet Bouchard will celebrate Bath’s portraiture history as she draws from a model live in the gallery.

Victoria Art Gallery

Museum of East Asian Art

Since 1993, Bath has been home to the UK’s first and only museum dedicated to the art and culture of East and South East Asia. The museum was founded by British lawyer Brian McElney, who was an avid collector of Chinese art and decided to unite these pieces in a display for the public. Today, the museum holds almost 2,000 pieces from over 7,000 years of history, including ceramics, jades, bronzes and bamboo carvings. Like many of the other cultural hubs in the city, the MEAA is housed in a quintessential Georgian building, juxtaposing the exotic Eastern art within. Over the last 24 years, the museum has exhibited some of the East Asia’s emerging talent, such as ink-painting artists Wu Lan-Chiann and Koon Wai Bong. Until July, a retrospective of the celebrated Chinese painter, Hong Ling, will be on display at the MEAA.

Museum of East Asian Art

The Holburne Museum

Despite being a city, Bath is renowned for its glorious green parks and gardens spreading out into the surrounding country land. The oldest of Bath’s cultivated green spaces is the Sydney Gardens, a former haunt of British royalty and the writer Jane Austen. Within the gardens lies Bath’s first public art gallery, the Holburne Museum, established in 1882 by the sister of Sir Thomas William Holburne after his death. Holburne had amassed a collection of over 4,000 pieces during his lifetime, including bronze sculptures, silver, porcelain and Dutch landscapes; one of the highlights of this collection is a stunning oil painting of the Byam family by Thomas Gainsborough. Although the museum continues to respect and preserve the traditional collection of Sir Thomas, it has also incorporated contemporary and modern artists through a series of exhibitions. Currently on display are the works of British wood engraver, Anne Desmet, in an exhibition titled Under Changing Skies.

The Holburne Museum

Museum of Bath Architecture

A defining factor in the transformation of Bath from a rural Celtic town into a thriving city was undoubtedly its architecture. From the building of the Roman bathing complex to the Circus in the Georgian period, architecture has played an important role in Bath’s prosperity over the last millennium. In the 1980s, the importance of Bath’s architectural history was recognised with the establishment of the Museum of Bath Architecture. The museum demonstrates the process of construction for the typical Georgian houses which inundate the city, as well as displaying a detailed architectural model of the historic centre. To celebrate the city’s pioneering architect, John Wood, the museum recently purchased his drawing set for an impressive £26,000. The museum’s building – the chapel of the Countess of Huntingdon – is unique in its rejection of neoclassical features which dominate Bath in favour of Gothic motifs.

Museum fo Bath Architecture

Pontus Silfverstolpe is Co-Founder of Barnebys.

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