LONDON is teeming with world-class collections, and it is so often a host for once-in-a-lifetime exhibitions that you could be forgiven for never venturing out of the capital to see art.
But within easy reach by train, coach or car are some wonderful museums and galleries that reflect the extraordinary wealth of cultural life across the country. Many of these, such as the Turner Contemporary in Margate and the Towner in Eastbourne, are new, while others such as Pallant House in Chichester and Bexhill's De La Warr Pavilion have undergone refurbishment or had extensions in the past decade. All this is a testament to the recent Lotteryassisted renaissance in regional museums, the like of which might never be seen again.
Whether they have benefited from gifts of unique collections assembled by impassioned, scholarly or eccentric individuals, or simply have a knack for attracting important contemporary talent, these galleries offer some of the most dynamic exhibitions and collection displays anywhere in Britain. Additionally, the Towner, Turner Contemporary and Kettle's Yard are partners in the Plus Tate scheme, so they regularly house works from the Tate collection.
What better way to spend the bank holiday than getting out of the city for a day trip and a decent exhibition? BRIGHTON MUSEUM & ART GALLERY RADICAL BLOOMSBURY: THE ART OF DUNCAN GRANT AND VANESSA BELL, 1905-25 Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell were the two best Bloomsbury artists, and this show wisely concentrates solely on them and equally judiciously ends in 1925, ahead of the worst excesses of their later years. Bell was the superior artist, particularly in the years immediately after 1910, when the group was among the first British artists to react to the then scandalous work of Matisse and Picasso emerging from Europe. The gallery is offering a special ticket which allows entry to both the exhibition and Charleston (01323 811265, charleston.org.uk), Bell and Grant's sometime home from 1916 in nearby Firle. Seemingly no surface at Charleston escaped the Bloomsbury brush, so it's a queasymaking experience, but an exhibition of brooding wood engravings by Paul Nash provides a welcome counterpoint.
?Until Oct 9 (03000 290900, brighton-hove-rpml.org.uk). Open Tues- Sun, 10am-5pm; bank holiday Mon, 10am-5pm. Admission free.
THE WATTS GALLERY, COMPTON, SURREY PAINTING FOR THE NATION: GF WATTS AT THE TATE It is difficult to imagine now that the Victorian painter GF Watts was once hailed as "England's Michelangelo". Watts, the most famous artist of his age, had a dedicated gallery at the Tate from its opening until the dawn of the Second World War. To today's tastes, this seems somewhat bizarre -- Watts's moralising, and the symbolism with which he tended rather to club his viewers around the head, seems beyond the pale. But the gallery devoted to him in a village in the heart of the Surrey countryside is a delight, and helps explain his appeal. The current show features numerous loans from the Tate and attempts to give a sense of what that grand gallery at the Tate might have looked like. Meanwhile, the permanent collection is huge, including 250 paintings alone. And while I doubt you'll emerge from the experience agreeing with that somewhat reckless ranking of Watts alongside Renaissance masters, you will certainly gain a picture of this extraordinary artist, and the remarkable age in which he thrived.
?Until Jan 1, 2012 (01483 810235, wattsgallery.org.uk). Open Tues- Sat and bank holiday Mon, 11am-5pm; Sun, 1pm-5pm. Admission Pounds 7.50 (concs available) DE LA WARR PAVILION, BEXHILL-ON-SEA CATHERINE YASS It still provokes a shudder to think that a decade ago the De La Warr Pavilion was in danger of being turned into a JD Wetherspoon pub. Thankfully, common sense prevailed, and this modernist masterpiece is now one of the South-East's most dynamic cultural centres. …