Can You Identify These Famous Works by British Artists?

By: Marie Hullett
Image: duncan1890 / DigitalVision Vectors / Getty Images

About This Quiz

Long before the 1707 formation of the Kingdom of Great Britain, the nations that made up the western European state enjoyed a rich and distinctive art history. Over the years, British artwork has documented famous rulers and aristocrats, explored religious and cultural traditions and defied globally-accepted genres. The English Renaissance emphasized portraiture, while interest in landscape painting emerged around the 18th century. Over the centuries, the culture's artwork would shift from religious symbolism to portraiture to pastoral, from realism to impressionism to abstraction. 

Whether you're an art history extraordinaire or have never set foot in a gallery (let alone the Tate Modern, Britain, London or St. Ives), it's time to test your knowledge of some of the most famous works in the region. Do you know your George Stubbs from Ford Madox Brown? J.M.W. Turner from John Everett Millais? Freud from Bacon? There's only one way to find out, and that's by taking the following quiz. 

Sure, many can tell Banksy from Bridget Riley, but do you even remember L.S. Lowry? Only the best and brightest will pass this quiz with flying colors. Let me paint you a realistic picture: This test won't be too easely. You might actually find it quite hart!



Leighton's painting depicts an accolade, which is a type of ceremony that bestows knighthood upon someone. Often, the ceremony involves tapping a sword's flat side on the shoulders of a candidate. This painting is Leighton's most famous, and is considered a quintessential piece of medieval iconography, according to the Art Renewal Center.

This painting belongs to a group commissioned for several aristocratic patrons, which largely features successful racehorses. Stubbs was known for his amazing anatomical accuracy when depicting animals. This piece can now be found in the Tate.

Historians believe Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger painted this piece to commemorate an event that Sir Henry Lee organized for the Queen around September 1592. After Lee's retirement, he left to live with his mistress. While originally angry, the Queen was thought to forgive him for his antics at this particular occasion. Indeed, one of the Latin phrases on the painting translates to, "She can but does not take revenge."

Banksy's "Swinger" is one of his myriad street art pieces. As many know, Banksy's real name and identity remain ever-elusive, perhaps in part because graffiti is illegal in most places. You can find his works (and likely many Banksy imitations) on streets across the globe.

This painting features an annual tradition that takes place on the River Thames. "Swan upping" refers to when the British catch the swans and mark them to indicate ownership. Though Spencer began this work in 1915, he couldn't complete it until 1919 due to his involvement in World War I.

If you include reproductions of artwork, "The Singing Butler" is the best-selling work in the history of the U.K. The painting features a couple dancing on a beach on the coast of Fife as a butler and a maid hold umbrellas for them. As an iconic cultural work, some compare "The Singing Butler" to "American Gothic." Although it's beloved by the public, art critics have widely criticized it for its technique.

The Temeraire was one of the final ships to play a part in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1838. A paddle-wheel tug boat pulled it to its final docking site in Rotherhithe in London, at which point it was broken up into wood scrap. In a 2005 poll conducted by BBC radio, British people voted this painting as their favorite in the nation.

This painting features Ophelia, a central character in William Shakespeare's play "Hamlet." Millais depicted her just before she falls off a tree branch and drowns in a Denmark river. It now can be found at the Tate in London.

L.S. Lowry is widely known for his paintings of scenes of industrial districts in England, including this one, which he created in 1943. He often called the figures in his many urban settings "matchstick men." Lowry currently holds the record for rejecting the most British honors, including a knighthood.

This mid-18th century portrait is one of many Thomas Gainsborough depicted of people across England. Widely considered one of the most prolific British portrait artists of the 18th century, Gainsborough is also credited as the founder of the British landscape school.

Tennyson's lyrical ballad of the same name tells the story of Elaine of Astolat, a young noblewoman imprisoned by a curse in a tower on an island. This Pre-Raphaelite style painting depicts the end of the poem, when she manages to escape her tower and float down the river in search of Sir Lancelot. Unfortunately, she dies before she reaches his palace.

John Collier is remembered as one of Britain's most important portrait painters. Legend has it that English noblewoman Lady Godiva, Countess of Mercia, who died in 1086, used to ride her horse through the streets naked, only covered by her long hair. According to the tale, she did so to in attempt to be pardoned for her husband's cruel taxation policies.

Currently on display at London's National Gallery, historians consider "The Hay Wain" as one of England's most popular paintings. In the painting, three horses pull a wagon across the river. It was originally titled "Landscape: Noon."

Named after the Greek god of the northern wind Boreas, this painting shows a young woman with the wind catching her scarf. After being lost for nine decades, it was put up for sale in the 1990s.

The 20th century painter Montague Dawson is renowned for his depictions of sailing ships, most of which were warships or clippers from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. Dawson received no formal art training, but is hailed for his immense technical accuracy.

The full title of this painting is actually "The Alchymist, In Search of the Philosopher's Stone, Discovers Phosphorus, and prays for the successful Conclusion of his operation, as was the custom of the Ancient Chymical Astrologers." Yes, that's a mouthful, which is perhaps why it has been shortened.

In this painting, Henry Wallis depicted 17-year-old English Romantic poet Tomas Chatterton, who was found dead after he poisoned himself with arsenic in 1770. In Wallis' time, many young, struggling artists viewed Chatterton as an icon.

British surrealist painter Paul Nash created numerous depictions of warfare over the years. He also served as one of Britain's most acclaimed landscape artists of the 20th century and played a fundamental role in the development of the Modernism art movement.

Portrait artist Joshua Reynolds is well-known for his graceful depictions of children, with this one being perhaps his most highly acclaimed. Historians think it might feature his great niece, or the youngest daughter of the fourth Duke of Marlborough, though no one knows definitively.

As the title suggests, this painting depicts The Great Western Railway, which was one of the private British railway enterprises established in the 19th century. If you look closely, you can see a tiny hare in the bottom right of the track, perhaps symbolizing speed.

This oil painting by prominent naturalist landscape painter John Constable features a lane that leads from East Bergholt to Derdham, Essex. Of his depictions of local Suffolk life, Constable said, "I should paint my own places best... painting is but another word for feeling."

Art critics widely revere "Work" as Brown's finest piece. Brown set up an exhibition to display the work and wrote a paper explaining the picture's significance in detail. The painting exists in two slightly different versions, both of which were commissioned.

Alongside the previously featured work "The Accolade," this 18th century work is another of Leighton's that explores the theme of chivalry. As the knight departs, the woman ties a sash around his arm. In medieval times, custom held that the knight should return it when he came back safe and sound.

Frederick George Cotman loosely belonged to the Norwich School of painters, one of the early provincial art movements in the nation. Like others in the school, naturalism greatly inspired Cotman. This charming work is his most famous.

"The Blue Boy" is one of prominent British painter Thomas Gainsborough's most famous pieces. Historians believe the artist alludes to Anthony van Dyck due to the subject's 17th century apparel and the many similarities to Van Dyck's portrait of Charles II.

British-born Mexican artist Leonora Carrington was an important figure in the 1930s surrealist movement. In addition to her prolific paintings, she authored a number of short stories and founded the Women's Liberation Movement in Mexico in the 1970s. She grappled with mental health issues throughout her life, which her paintings often seem to explore.

Tennyson's poem reads in part, "Who would be/ A mermaid fair/ Singing alone/ Combing her hair." Waterhouse exhibited his piece at the Royal Academy in 1901 to an overwhelmingly positive reception.

Known as one of the founders of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, William Holman Hunt's works are revered for their detail, symbolism and use of color. In particular, Hunt said writers Thomas Carlyle and John Ruskin influenced his messages, as they believed that the world should be interpreted through a system of signs.

In addition to being one of England's leading painters, Sir Thomas Lawrence served as the fourth president of the Royal Academy of Arts in London. A child prodigy, Lawrence supported his family with his artwork by the age of 10. This portrait of Queen Charlotte was his first royal commission.

"Silver Favourites" depicts an ancient Roman scene. The frame of the original painting has a verse from William Wordsworth's poem "Gold and Silver Fishes in a Vase." In the poem, the speaker contemplates the captivity of the fish at the same time he admires them. In the same way, critics think Alma-Tadema perhaps wanted to communicate the beautiful-yet-confined nature of the women in the scene.

Burne-Jones painted this piece sometime between 1872 and 1877. The work depicts a scene from the Arthurian legend of Merlin, in which the Lady of the Lake, Nimue, entraps Merlin as she reads from her spell book. The artist also designed ceramic tiles, tapestries, mosaics and jewelry.

"Marriage A-la-Mode" is a multi-part series by Hogarth that intended to serve as a moral warning of marrying for money. In addition to being a painter, Hogarth was also a printmaker, cartoonist, editorial satirist and social critic.

Sutherland served as an engineer's apprentice at the Midland Railway locomotive works in Derby before attending the Goldsmiths' School of Art in 1921. His work likely inspired this piece, "Slag-ladles," which depicts ladles designed to collect slag from furnaces and steelmaking units.

As the title suggests, this oil painting depicts a scene from Homer's "The Odyssey," in which Odysseus (or Ulysses) stands on his ship after blinding the cyclopes Polyphemus and taunts him. Other allusions in the painting include the Trojan Horse on one of the flags and the horses of Apollo along the horizon.

Wyndham Lewis co-founded the Vorticist art and literary movement, which was inspired by cubism and rejected landscape imagery in favor of abstraction. The movement was short-lived, perhaps due to the onset of World War I, historians think.

Emily Maria Eardley "Milly" Childers painted this portrait of her father just before his retirement. Afterward, the two of them traveled through England and France, Childers painting scenes along the way. Childers also served as an art restorer and copyist for Lord Halifax at Temple Newsam.

Louise Jane Jopling was among the most renowned female artists of the Victorian era. Her paintings fetched very high prices and were exhibited at venues like the Palace of Fine Arts and the World's Columbian Exposition. Her social circle included the likes of Oscar Wilde, painter Kate Perugini (Charles Dickens' daughter) and actress Ellen Terry.

In addition to his portraits of dogs and horses, Stubbs dabbled in depicting Australian animals like kangaroos and dingos. Unlike most of his works, though, this piece didn't feature a live subject. Joseph Banks commissioned the work based on the skin of an animal he found off Australia's east coast during 1770.

Historians pieced together the legend of Hylas from Ovid and other ancient writers. In the tale, the female water nymphs, the Naiads, abduct an enchanted Hylas while he attempts to take a drink of water. At the time, critics viewed Waterhouse's painting as a warning against dangerous, provocative female sexuality.

This painting features two girls running along the Walberswick Pier in Suffolk, where Phillip Wilson Steer had many companions. Steer's works are considered some of the most genuinely impressionist pieces in Britain, and this piece in particular was considered quite avant-garde for the time. One critic even called works like this one at the New English Art Club "evil."

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