The Favourite Holiday Spots of British Artists

Artists know how to holiday and the best places to go…

Artists have always known the best places to visit and stay. They rely on different landscapes to inspire their work while seeking somewhere to work, rest and relax. Here are some of their favourite holiday destinations in the British Isles.  

William Morris – Kelmscott Manor, Cotswolds

William Morris spent many a tranquil summer at Kelmscott Manor between 1871 and 1896. Escaping the chaos of London, he came upon the house and gardens and declared them ‘Heaven on Earth.’ This exquisite estate had a big influence on his work. Looking at the planting, you can easily see where the images for his art originated. ‘Strawberry Thief’ and ‘Willow Bough’ were just two of the beautiful designs completed in the years he would have been here. Dante Gabriel Rossetti lived with him at Kelmscott between 1871 and 1874. The Pre-Raphaelite painted a charming portrait of his Morris’s wife Jane with the property in the background. Rossetti and Jane had an affair that lasted for many years. Kelmscott Manor also appears in the frontispiece of Morris’s book News from Nowhere with the words: ‘This is the picture of the old house by the Thames to which the people of this story went. Hereafter follows the book itself which is called News From Nowhere or An Epoch of Rest and is written by William Morris.’ Kelmscott is now owned by the Society of Antiquaries of London and is open to the public (although closed presently due to Covid-19.) 

John Everett Millais – Perthshire

Millais had a home near Bowerswell in Scotland and often rented other properties in autumn. He was so enamoured of the Scottish landscape that he captured it in 21 paintings in all. He once wrote: ‘Scotland is like a wet pebble, with the colours brought out by the rain.’ His connection to Perthshire came via his Boswerwell-born wife, Effie (Euphemia Chalmers Gray), whose portrait he painted and called ‘The Order of Release’. Effie was married to John Ruskin at the time, but as he famously failed to consummate their relationship, she obtained a very public annulment. She wed Millais the following year. 

Bridget Riley – Cornwall

Bridget Riley spent her childhood living in Cornwall, near Padstow, between the ages of 8 and 14. In her essay ‘The Pleasures of Sight’ (1984), she wrote about the effect living in Cornwall had on her and her work: ‘Changing seas and skies, a coastline ranging from the grand to the intimate, bosky woods and secretive valleys; what I experienced there formed the basis of my visual life.’ The colours of Cornwall stayed with her. I love her description of ‘Dipping a bucket into shadowed water and suddenly seeing a right blue patch of reflected sky appear in the broken surface.’ Riley divides her time between several studios in London, including ones in Kensington and Bow, Provence, and, of course, Rock in Cornwall. Rock Beach remains one of the prettiest and most popular attractions for tourists thanks to its long stretches of soft golden sand.

J.M.W Turner – Margate

Turner went to school in Margate. One of his first recorded drawings, completed when he was about nine years old, shows Margate Church. He spent a lot of time in the town between 1824 and 1846 while lodging in the house of Sophia Caroline Booth in Cold Harbour. Margate features in many of his canvases and sketchbooks. His splendid ‘Old Margate Pier’, for instance, was shown at the Royal Academy in 1804. In this period of the early nineteenth century, Margate was developing from a fishing town to a favoured resort for those visiting from London. Today, it has a gallery – the Turner Contemporary – on the seafront, featuring exhibitions of contemporary art and sculpture.

Derek Jarman – Dungeness

In April this year, the UK charity Art Fund raised over £3.6 million through crowdfunding to save Derek Jarman’s cottage from being sold to a private owner. ‘Prospect Cottage’ in Dungeness in Kent was bought by Jarman in 1986 and became a sanctuary for artists to come together and create. The splendid and house and garden will be restored to look as they did at the time Jarman occupied them. Dungeness itself has a lot more besides to offer the weary traveller. There is Dungeness National Nature Reserve, and also Dungeness Beach, a wild and pebbly place to blow away the cobwebs. 

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