Many of us across the UK will be craving a return to museums and galleries after months of being confined at home. The Royal Academy, the Tate galleries, and The National Gallery have already opened their doors and many others are set to follow suit over the coming months. Going back to these spaces, things will seem very different than before; mask requirements, pre-booked tickets, and social distancing floor markings will be introduced for visitors' safety.

However, one thing we may have not considered that will be new when entering our galleries, hungry for art, is that our worldview has been altered from what it was pre-lockdown. The artworks we thought we knew well could be viewed entirely differently through a post-coronavirus lens.



Margaret Cahill

Salford Museum & Art Gallery

The works of Margaret Cahill reflect unpopulated public spaces across the UK, while also mirroring the domestic spaces we have confined ourselves to these past months. The moody colour palette and distorted forms she has used evokes a sense of uncertainty and unease we can all identify with.



Margaret Cahill

Salford Museum & Art Gallery

The furniture in Neatley could even remind us of a hospital bed, with a visitor's chair to the right. One thing to note about these pieces is the overwhelming amount of negative space in the foreground as if the back of the room is running away from the viewer. The empty plane of space in the foreground almost makes the setting look like a theatre stage.

Here is James Purvis' interpretation of a melting mask in sculptural form.


Mask* c.2000–2004

James Purvis

Ross-on-Wye Town Council

This work combines the form of a Greek comedy or tragedy theatre mask, with a white stripe over the mouth that reminds us of modern face masks.

The mask has become probably the most recognisable symbol of the coronavirus response across the world – especially now that they are compulsory in most public enclosed spaces around the UK. It will be hard for us to not associate images of a face covering with COVID-19.

With pubs and restaurants closed throughout the pandemic, and social distancing encouraged universally, scenes like this one by Hogarth are rare.

A Midnight Modern Conversation

A Midnight Modern Conversation (after a lost original, engraved in 1733)

William Hogarth (1697–1764) (after)

National Trust, Petworth House

Today we would collectively scoff and comment on the lack of social distancing going on here. The atmosphere in here feels dank and raucous because of the muddy colours Hogarth utilises. Men slumped across each other while sharing a single large bowl of drink would be a cesspit for breeding the virus. Hopefully, there's at least one bottle of hand sanitizer hidden somewhere in this tavern.

Staff Nurse R. Rosser, GM

Staff Nurse R. Rosser, GM 1942

Walter Westley Russell (1867–1949)

IWM (Imperial War Museums)

NHS staff and key workers have been immensely significant in helping the country during the pandemic – their efforts and sacrifices greatly appreciated across the nation.

This portrait by Walter Westley Russell of Staff Nurse R. Rosser, GM shows us just how similar to today was the medical response to the Second World War – temporary 'Nightingale' hospitals around the UK are akin to those set up during wartime. The blue in the nurse's sleeves reminds us of modern scrubs worn by healthcare workers. This portrait reveals a quiet moment of rest in between the nurse treating her patients, her hard work evident in her rosy cheeks and tired slumped shoulders.

Portland 30

Portland 30 2004

Alex Lowery (b.1957)

St George's Hospital

Barren and unpopulated landscapes such are these are staples of Alex Lowery's style.

Portland 192

Portland 192 2004

Alex Lowery (b.1957)

St George's Hospital

These two works may remind us of our daily-allotted hour of exercise during the initial phase of lockdown, whether a gentle walk or a brisk jog. Arguably, as a nation, we have a new-found appreciation for outdoor spaces after being cooped up at home for so long. The gentle hues and harmonious compositional lines in these works allow for reflection and convey stillness – a liminal space between a pre- and post-coronavirus world.

Insistent Rub

Insistent Rub 2001

Olivia Gillow (b.1972)

Bethlem Museum of the Mind

Olivia Gillow's Insistent Rub easily could be plastered across public transport stations, with a slogan that emphasises on the importance of handwashing in the face of COVID-19. Olivia Gillow's close-up of hands washing with a bar of soap is another common scene of the coronavirus. Her brushstrokes are as fluid as the water the hands bathe in, and the colour palette is deep and cool. The gestural strokes of the water give motion to the trickling water and hands scrubbing.

Bridge at Courbevoie

Bridge at Courbevoie 1886–1887

Georges Seurat (1859–1891)

The Courtauld, London (Samuel Courtauld Trust)

The figures in Seurat's Bridge at Courbevoie appear to be talking from a sensible two metres apart on the riverbank on a hazy cool morning. Reunions between families and friends have been encouraged to occur outdoors, and from a safe distance from one another in the hopes of keeping everyone safe. Even we, the viewer, spectating this meeting are also socially distanced from the scene.

Derby Street, Prescot, Merseyside

Derby Street, Prescot, Merseyside 1980s

Derek J. Smith

Knowsley Arts and Heritage Service

Derek J. Smith's Derby Street, Prescot, Merseyside presents another empty urbanscape of a quiet town. The quintessential British overcast sky and deep brown Victorian bricks are the backdrops for going down to the shop for a pint of milk. You can almost imagine families peering through the parted curtains while being confined at home. Thankfully, we were blessed with nicer weather across the nation compared to the wintry conditions of this scene.

Street Scene with Shoppers

Street Scene with Shoppers (probably by a University of Glamorgan art student) 2003 (?)

J. B. (possibly)

University of South Wales Art Collection Museum

Though not much is known about this work, many of us can relate to the scene of having to queue to get into a local supermarket, separated by floor markings. Things now feel very different from when people stockpiled up on toilet paper and pasta before lockdown. This painting manages to make a very mundane chore into a striking work of art by using very hazy forms and gestural strokes.

As the country begins to unlock, we emerge from our homes uncertain of how a socially distanced future will look. However, one thing is certain – the artworks we have loved for years will still be there waiting, perhaps experienced with different perceptions and a new-found appreciation. Equally, an event as generation-defining as the coronavirus pandemic will no doubt be represented in art for decades to come.

Isabel Booth-Downs, student at the Open University