An image of a little girl sadly watching her heart-shaped red balloon drift away, originally a stencil on a grimy wall by Banksy, has toppled Constable’s Hay Wain as the nation’s best-loved work of art.
The most famous version of Girl with Balloon, by the Bristol-born street artist, appeared on the side of a bridge on the South Bank in London in 2002. It is now ubiquitous, available as prints, greeting cards and mugs, as an instant street artist kit in a precut stencil marketed by a firm in the US, and as a recent addition to the impressive collection of tattoos almost covering the skin of pop star Justin Bieber.
Another version in the East End was among several Banksys which sparked outrage when the new owners of the building proposed to peel it off the wall and send it to auction. A miniature version, painted on the cardboard backing of a cheap picture frame, sold in 2012 for more than £73,000.
The Hay Wain, a lyrical vision of an English summer day in the beloved Suffolk countryside of John Constable’s childhood, failed to find a buyer when it was first shown at the Royal Academy in 1821. Since then it has frequently been voted the nation’s best-loved painting and has graced countless jigsaw puzzles, tea towels and biscuit tins.
Just under a third of the 20 pieces on the list of the nation’s favourites were created in the last 25 years. The list was voted for by 2,000 people, who were asked to choose their top 5 from a shortlist chosen by arts writers including the Observer’s Vanessa Thorpe. The result includes three album covers and four sculptures – including Anish Kapoor’s red tower created for the Olympic Park in Stratford, east London, which recently sprouted slides designed by the artist Carsten Holler in an attempt to attract more paying visitors.
Only two female artists made it on to the list, Bridget Riley’s Movement in Squares at No 15 and Maggi Hambling’s Scallop at No 18, a towering memorial to the composer Benjamin Britten on the beach at Aldeburgh that was initially loathed and regularly vandalised.
Such polls often reflect artists in the news as much as considered judgment: Peter Blake’s cover for Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, in at No 8, has been ubiquitous this year as the 50th anniversary of the album was celebrated in Liverpool and by Beatles fans across the world.
In 2015, JMW Turner was voted the nation’s favourite artist in a poll for the BBC, on the heels of a blockbuster exhibition at Tate Britain and the success of Mike Leigh’s Oscar-nominated movie. But in this poll he has now fallen to fourth place with The Fighting Temeraire.
Publicity isn’t everything, however: David Hockney, whose retrospective at Tate Britain this year was the gallery’s fastest-selling and most successful, only made 14th place with A Bigger Splash.
Unaffected by fashion or current affairs, the nation’s affection for Jack Vettriano’s Singing Butler, and the rest of his oeuvre apparently painted in golden syrup, remains unshakeable. His work regularly features in the top 10 most-loved, despite or perhaps strengthened by it being lambasted by many critics and ignored by more: in 2014 a rare exhibition of his work at Kelvingrove in Glasgow became the most popular the gallery has mounted.
The survey, which was commissioned for the launch of a Samsung television that camouflages itself as a work of art when turned off, also found most people judge others by the art on their walls, with one in five saying they have hidden pictures or swapped them around before particularly judgmental visitors arrive.
Nation’s favourite works of art
1 Banksy Girl with Balloon
2 John Constable The Hay Wain
3 Jack Vettriano The Singing Butler
4 JMW Turner The Fighting Temeraire
5 Antony Gormley The Angel of the North
6 LS Lowry Going to the Match
7 John William Waterhouse The Lady of Shalott
8 Peter Blake Sgt Pepper album cover
9 Hipgnosis and George Hardie Dark Side of the Moon album cover
10 George Stubbs Mares and Foals in a River Landscape
11 Thomas Gainsborough Mr and Mrs Andrews
12 John Everett Millais Ophelia
13 Andy Goldsworthy Balanced Rock Misty
14 David Hockney A Bigger Splash
15 Bridget Riley Movement in Squares
16 Anish Kapoor ArcelorMittal Orbit
17 Stik A Couple Hold Hands in the Street
18 Maggi Hambling Scallop
19 Henry Moore Reclining Figure
20 Jamie Reid Never Mind the Bollocks album cover
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010