It’s been a strange one, 2016: depending on your perspective and your political leanings, it could either be represented for you by Edvard Munch’s The Scream: hands covering face, mouth open in an endless, tortured wail – or by a soothing, Turner-esque sunset – delete as appropriate. Perhaps, as we see 2016 being slowly hauled away for scrap like The Fighting Temeraire, we could all agree that to best represent the year in its chaotic, messy entirety we should turn to abstract art and Jackson Pollock: throwing paint at a wall and seeing how it sticks is possibly the most apt metaphor you could ask for.

No doubt historians will be unravelling the knotty threads of 2016 for years to come, but we’ve decided to salute the passing of this complicated, wobbly year the only way we know how: through art.

February: Art UK is born

The beginning of this year saw the official birth of, the online home to the UK’s publicly owned art. This piece by Bob and Roberta Smith was created for the launch and sums up Art UK’s ethos in the artist’s trademark block print.

Through Our Public Collections We All Own Art

Through Our Public Collections We All Own Art 2016

Bob and Roberta Smith (b.1963)

Parliamentary Art Collection

April: The Panama Papers

History’s biggest data leak shook the world when it was reported by the Guardian and the BBC back at the beginning of April. The 11.5 million leaked documents lifted the lid on tax haven practices and brought one of the world’s most secretive companies, the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, into the reluctant limelight.

The Man in the Panama Hat (Herbert Thomas, Editor of 'The Cornishman')

The Man in the Panama Hat (Herbert Thomas, Editor of 'The Cornishman')

Leonard John Fuller (1891–1973)

Penlee House Gallery & Museum

April: Queen Elizabeth turned 90

The Queen celebrated her 90th birthday this year, beginning on 21st April and with celebrations carrying on throughout May and June. Elizabeth II has dutifully sat for over 130 portraits during her reign, amassing an impressive collection of portraitists including Cecil Beaton, Pietro Annigoni, Lucian Freud and John Swannell. 

Queen Elizabeth II

Queen Elizabeth II 1985–1986

Michael Leonard (1933–2023)

National Portrait Gallery, London

April: Shakespeare died a really, really long time ago

Marking 400 years from Shakespeare’s death on 23rd April 1616, the country went bonkers for the Bard, with everywhere from the Globe to the National Library of Scotland putting on events and hosting celebrations. 


Ophelia 1851–2

John Everett Millais (1829–1896)


June: Brexit

Once a ridiculous-sounding portmanteau, ‘Brexit’ became the word that echoed around all corners of the UK at the beginning of summer – and on 23rd June Britain said goodbye, au revoir and auf wiedersehen to our continental neighbours as we voted out of the European Union and paddled off into the sunset alone.

Never Eat Shredded Wheat (Memory Maps), English, Female, 32

Never Eat Shredded Wheat (Memory Maps), English, Female, 32 1996

Mariele Neudecker (b.1965)

Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre

June: Super soggy Glastonbury

While the summer was mainly hot and dry, Glastonbury – predictably – saw the worst mud in the festival’s history as rain drenched the site in June, using up the entire region’s stock of woodchip in an effort to soak it up. 

Wet Haystack

Wet Haystack 1963–1964

John Cunningham (1926–1998)

The Hunterian, University of Glasgow

June/July: Triumphs in space

While it may all have been a bit rocky down here on Earth, in space there was more to celebrate. On 4th July, NASA cheered as their spacecraft Juno entered the orbit of Jupiter after a five year journey, capturing video of the planet’s largest four moons circling it for the first time. And, a little bit closer to home, Tim Peake was brought back down to Earth on 18th June, having completed his six-month mission aboard the International Space Station. 

Earth's Travail

Earth's Travail 1944

George Graham (1881–1949)

Hastings Museum and Art Gallery

July: New Prime Minister

After the turmoil of Brexit, David Cameron’s resignation and the brief, but real, chance that Boris Johnson might become the leader of our country, Theresa May emerged victorious from the Conservative ranks and became the second woman Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Inviting – of course – comparisons to Margaret Thatcher.

July/August: The hottest year on record

Hot on the heels – literally – of a rainy spring and early summer, July 2016 emerged as the hottest single month since instruments have been reliably used to measure temperature, followed by a similar effect in August. The nation sweltered on, safe in the knowledge that our athletes in Rio were probably finding it tougher. Speaking of which…

Heat Showers in August

Heat Showers in August 1857

Thomas Sidney Cooper (1803–1902)

Manchester Art Gallery

June/August/November: Britain can actually be pretty good at sport

Andy Murray won Wimbledon, Team GB achieved the unthinkable and came in second place in the Rio Olympics and Paralympics, and then Murray became world number one in tennis, defending the place against Djokovic. 2016 has been a year in which Britain has renounced its comfy underdog status and decided that, actually, we can be pretty good at sport.   


Tennis (triptych, centre panel) 1930

Eric Ravilious (1903–1942)

Bristol Museums, Galleries & Archives

All year: Celebrity deaths

A much higher than usual spate of beloved celebrity deaths even led to a BBC News analysis to confirm that we weren’t all just overreacting. 2016 saw us saying our sad farewells to David Bowie, Prince, Alan Rickman, Harper Lee, Muhammad Ali, Gene Wilder and Leonard Cohen – to name but a few. 


Purple 2011

Karen Rennie (b.1983)

University of Dundee, Duncan of Jordanstone College Collection

October: Bob Dylan is awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature

The first person to win a Nobel Prize the same day as playing a gig in Las Vegas (and, of course, the first person to win from writing songs), Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature for his decades of lyrics which – according to the Swedish Academy – make him a poet in the ‘great English tradition, stretching from Milton and Blake onwards’. 

Blowing in the Wind

Blowing in the Wind

J. Gordon Brown (1956–2016)

Grampian Hospitals Art Trust

November: Donald Trump becomes US President-elect

Perhaps we should just enjoy this rendering of New York from 1939, when Mr Trump was still but a twinkle in the city’s eye, and move on to other things…

New York, from Brooklyn

New York, from Brooklyn 1939

Charles Ernest Cundall (1890–1971)

Government Art Collection

December: Maybe it’ll all be alright in the end…

…and if it’s not alright, that’s because it is not yet the end.

Here’s a picture of a tiger to finish off – because one of the good pieces of news to come out of 2016 is that the world tiger population, for the first time in 100 years, has grown.

A Tiger

A Tiger c.1904

Harry Dixon (1861–1941)

Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales

Happy New Year from Art UK!


Fireworks 1867

J. S. Holmes (active 1850–1867)

Hartlepool Museums and Heritage Service

Molly Tresadern, Art UK Content Creator and Marketer