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Five exhibitions to see this December

As winter approaches, wrap up warm, grab something mulled and kindle inspiration at these five must-see exhibitions around the UK.

There’s a literary flavour to December's exhibition picks, with a show looking at John Milton’s influence on John Keats and a celebration of AA Milne’s clumsy bear, Winnie-the-Pooh, both opening this month. They’re joined by exhibitions exploring Scottish modernism, views of Brighton and relatively unseen war art in our list of recommendations for the weeks ahead.

How did Scottish artists react to the dramatic shifts in modern art at the beginning of the 20th century? This major show considers how movements including Fauvism, Abstraction, Cubism and Surrealism were absorbed by and responded to by artists in the early decades of the century including JD Fergusson and SJ Peploe, and tracks developments in Scottish art until the 1950s when artists such as Eduardo Paolozzi became leading names in European contemporary art.

Art dealer John Noott was seven years old when the Second World War broke out in 1939, and he later began to collect art made during the war years by artists including Feliks Topolski and Eduardo Paolozzi – eventually building a collection of over 100 paintings, prints and posters. This is the first major gallery showing of this rich collection, which includes rarely seen portrayals of Dunkirk, the Battle of Britain, scenes at sea and in the air, and the aftermath of global warfare. 

See how one poetic mind responded to another in this exploration of John Milton’s influence on 19th-century Romantic John Keats, centred around the display of Keats’ own copy of Milton’s epic work Paradise Lost. Annotated with Keats’ thoughts and observations, the volume offers a unique insight into his feelings and workings, with passages he was particularly drawn to on subjects of loss and separation seeming to resonate with his personal life.

What would a country walk be without a game of Poohsticks? Winnie-the-Pooh’s favourite ‘sport’ is just one invention for which we can thank AA Milne; another, of course, is the clumsy illustrated bear himself, here celebrated in an exhibition exploring his influence on global popular culture. Visitors can see everything from toys belonging to Milne’s son, Christopher (the inspiration for Christopher Robin), to original drawings by artist EH Shepard, who brought Pooh to life.

While John Piper’s slim volume of Brighton views on marbled paper may seem unassuming, it marked a key moment in the development of his style and interest in the avant-garde. Here, curator Alan Powers aims to shed light on the book as pivotal in Piper’s development through the display of related publications, letters, sketches, prints and designs – expanding the collection’s appeal beyond its portrayals of familiar landmarks (including the Royal Pavilion) and exploring its wider artistic significance. 

From Cardiff Castle and Kensington Palace to the V&A and Tate Modern - the National Art Pass gives you free entry to over 240 museums, galleries and historic houses across the UK as well as 50% off entry to major exhibitions. Find out more

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