‘A Canvas to Depict the Special Relationship’

Works from the Government Art Collection are particularly well represented in New York City. The displays, across three residences, show the wide span of the Collection, from portraits and landscapes by 17th-century painters to works by some of Britain’s leading contemporary artists.

Tennis player Andy Murray seated with his US Open trophy in the dining room of the Consul General in New York surrounded by people. The GAC's painting of the Duke of York hangs on the wall behind him.

US Open winner Andy Murray sitting under a portrait of King James II on his visit to the British Consul General in New York in 2012 © Crown Copyright

Prominently displayed in the dining room at the Consul General’s Residence, is a 17th-century portrait of King James II as Duke of York by John Michael Wright. This painting was selected for display in New York to link to a significant moment in the city’s past – the year of 1664 when the English captured the colony of New Netherland, renaming it New York, in honour of the Duke, who then presided over the colony.

The arts are an essential part of the fabric that joins the UK and the US, especially in New York. They provide a canvas on which we can depict the next phase of the special relationship in all its forms.

Antony Phillipson, British Consul General in New York and HM Trade Commissioner for North America

The Collection displays work in New York at the residences of the British Consul General and the Permanent and Deputy Permanent Representatives to the United Nations.

Art displays from the Collection are designed to create stimulating environments for visitors to the UK’s Residences. Sir John Sawers, a leading British diplomat and British Permanent Representative to the United Nations from 2007-2009, believes that art can play a specific role as he explains: ‘Modern British art sets the stage for modern British diplomacy. The art demonstrates style, quality and a distinctive British approach, as we try to do in our diplomacy too’.

While he was Consul General in New York from 2011–2016, Danny Lopez hosted a range of diplomatic receptions. Reflecting on the impact that an art display can make, he comments: ‘Each year we showcase the best of Britain to over 10,000 people: business leaders, politicians, artists and thinkers of all stripes, sports stars and members of the Royal family. It’s a wonderful and versatile space…’

Like the portrait of King James II, many of the artworks selected for British government buildings in the city, make links between the artist or the work and the city itself.

In the 1920s Edward Burra (1905–1976) made many trips to New York, where he frequented jazz clubs in Harlem. His pen and ink drawing Jazz Fans is also on display at the Residence.

A drawing of four women and a man listening to music on a record player, relaxing, smoking, and drinking tea

Edward Burra, Jazz Fans, c.1928-1929 © Copyright care of Alex Reid and Lefevre London

At the Residence of the Ambassador to the United Nations, another work, New York, from Brooklyn by Charles Ernest Cundall presents an evocative view of the city’s skyline as it appeared in the late 1930s.

A painting showing a vista of the East River with Manhattan beyond

Charles Ernest Cundall, New York, from Brooklyn, 1939 © Estate of the Artist

Other contemporary works on display in New York with a connection to the city, include a print of a water tower by Rachel Whiteread. Depicting the translucent resin cast of the interior of a water tank, this is a study for a public sculpture project that she undertook in New York in 1998, commissioned by the Public Art Fund.

A black-and-white photograph of rooftops showing a ghostly white water tower among two other regular ones

Rachel Whiteread, Water Tower Project, 1998 © Rachel Whiteread

Perhaps most recognisably, two screenprints of the Queen by Andy Warhol are also on display.

We are incredibly fortunate to have one of Andy Warhol’s iconic prints of Her Majesty The Queen, part of his Reigning Queens series and based on her Silver Jubilee portrait. It speaks not only to UK and US links but also Warhol’s time working in New York and, less known I think, his origins in Pittsburgh, also part of the patch covered by the New York Consulate and the location of a wonderful museum that holds the biggest single collection of his work. It is an instantly recognizable piece and a favourite backdrop for photos taken by the thousands of guests who pass through the residence every year.

Antony Phillipson, British Consul General in New York and HM Trade Commissioner for North America

A multicoloured screenprint showing HM The Queen wearing a crown and facing forward

Andy Warhol, Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, 1985 © 2016 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York and DACS, London.

Works by leading contemporary British artists at the Consul General’s Residence, include this one by  Turner Prize-winning artist Grayson Perry. His print Map of an Englishman, depicts an extraordinarily detailed insight into the artist’s own mind, reflecting his fears and neuroses.

A hand-drawn map of an island

Grayson Perry, Map of an Englishman, 2004 © Grayson Perry

Other Turner Prize nominee’s works at the Residence include Cornelia Parker’s work, Stolen Thunder I-III, presenting three iterations of a blank work almost engulfed by red dots indicating the sales at three successive Royal Academy Summer Exhibitions; and Dexter Dalwood’s painting Marquee, a depiction of an empty stage at London’s Marquee Club, renowned for helping launch the careers of many rock and punk bands.

A framed photograph showing a framed photograph of a blank page within a framed photograph, within a framed photograph. Each frame has a series of red dot stickers around the edge.

Cornelia Parker, Stolen Thunder III (Red Spot), 2015 © Cornelia Parker

A painting of a stage with lights above and a partially obscured sign spelling out 'marquee'

Dexter Dalwood, Marquee, 2012 © Dexter Dalwood

The display of art at the Residence of the Deputy Ambassador to the UN was refreshed in 2013 by two paintings from the 1960s. The jaunty fishing boat in Roger Hilton’s Pequod namesakes Captain Ahab’s ship chronicled in Herman Melville’s 1851 novel, Moby Dick.

A painting showing a stylised representation of a ship with 'Pequod' written on its side

Roger Hilton, Pequod, 1967 © Estate of Roger Hilton. All rights reserved, DACS 2016

Texan Landscape by Peter Lanyon pays colourful homage to the dynamic paintings of the American Abstract Expressionists of the mid 1950s whose work influenced many young British artists at the time.

An abstract painting of a Texan Landscape

Peter Lanyon, Texan Landscape, 1963 © Estate of the Artist

The impact these displays have on visitors is clear from the feedback that the Collection receives from diplomats. Dame Karen Pierce, Permanent Representative to the United Nations tells us: ‘Many colleagues from the Commonwealth, the UN and the US see this art and it makes a big impression on them. Not only through the quality of the wonderful works themselves but because of the message they send about a modern UK engaging with the world.’

Dame Karen Pierce, UK Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations from 2006-2009, talks about the art on display in her official residence in New York during the time she worked there. Dame Pierce has been UK Permanent Representative to the United Nations since 2018.


Written by Jessica Cerasi, former Curator (Modern and Contemporary)