The new rehang at Tate Britain has replaced some of its most popular paintings to make space for contemporary works about politics, colonialism and environmental disaster.
In an “inclusive view of art history”, in the words of the gallery’s director, works on display will be accompanied by labels that have been updated to provide historical context.
Beside Joseph Van Aken’s genteel portrait of a family taking tea in 1720, the text explains: “Tea was a bitter drink, sweetened with sugar produced in British colonies in the Caribbean with the labour of enslaved African people.”
Spencer Gore’s Rule Britannia, capturing a performance of Our Flag, the popular patriotic ballet, in Leicester Square in 1909, features Danish dancer Britta Petersen as the character of “England”. The text notes: “However, the ballet ignores the contested and often violent history of England’s colonial control over the British Isles.”
Around 200 works acquired since the turn of the millennium are part of the rehang. To make way for them, many old ones are not on display. They include Sir Anthony Caro’s seminal sculpture Early One Morning, which has been held by the Tate since 1965.
John William Waterhouse’s Lady of Shalott, one of Tate Britain’s most popular paintings, is not part of the grand unveiling. Tate said it was currently on loan to Falmouth Art Gallery and will return.