The wild hills and coastland, the spectacular medieval castles and ruined abbeys of the North East all made attractive subjects for intrepid artists in the eighteenth century. The old landed gentry grew wealthy on the exploitation of their coalfields and commissioned fashionable London portrait painters. In the early nineteenth century rapid industrialisation produced a wealthy middle class who supported local artists and art institutions and a school of northern artists developed, several of whom achieved national reputations. Industrial subjects were notably popular. The Government School of Design in Newcastle encouraged a regional Pre-Raphaelite movement and there were important North Eastern collectors of Pre-Raphaelite paintings. 

The region’s ports supported specialist maritime artist and ship painters, and some smaller fishing harbours such as Cullercoats attracted artists colonies recording the picturesque lives of the North Sea fisherfolk. In the mid-twentieth century Newcastle was home to several of Britain’s pioneering abstract and Pop artists such as Victor Pasmore and Richard Hamilton, who had a revolutionary influence on contemporary art in Britain.