Artwork is the new must-have every cool hotel needs

Many have heard of the lavish Marble Bar under Sydney's Hilton Hotel.

The heritage-listed bar, lined in glowing Belgian marble and built in 1891, was dismantled in the 1960s when its original home, the George Tattersalls Hotel, was demolished. It was preserved and reassembled in 1973 when the new Hilton hotel was built in that location.

Apart from the gorgeous architectural details, the Marble Bar is also known for the 14 curvaceous life-sized nudes that adorn its walls, which were painted in the 1880s by celebrated artist Julian Ashton.

Upstairs in the hotel, the art is contemporary. Bronwyn Oliver's magnificent 350 kilogram wire sculpture, The Vine, commissioned for the new hotel, unwinds over two levels in the lobby. Judith White's monumental painting, Inside the Glass, is mounted above the bar in the Glass Brasserie.

Throughout the hotel, walls are decorated with works by contemporary artists such as Patrick Mung Mung and Tony Twigg, with Bec Tarrant abstracts inspired by Sydney Harbour in many of the 577 guest rooms. The hotel has created a guide for guests which directs them through the artworks via a QR code.

Once upon a time, what passed as "art" in hotels were inoffensive prints hung to go with the colour scheme. But these days, hotel lobbies, corridors and rooms are art galleries and the works on their walls can be of significant value and artistic importance. Those bland, mass-produced watercolour prints of yachts on a harbour don't cut it anymore.

And that's a great thing, especially if the selection includes local artists, because a hotel's sense of place is as much a part of the culture that surrounds it as the landscape.

The first hotel I stayed at where I remember feeling the strong presence of art and artists was the Colombe d'Or in Saint-Paul-de-Vence in the south of France. The small hill-top inn was built in the 1920s, and over the years many artists stayed there, often exchanging works for food and board. Over the years the Roux family, which still owns the hotel, collected works by artists who lived in and visited the region - Miro, Braque, Chagall, Leger and Calder among them. For its location and its art history, it remains one of France's most loved hotels.

Some hotels are showcases for their owner's own art collections. The Merrion in central Dublin, opposite the National Gallery, houses owner Lochlann Quinn's eclectic collection of 19th and 20th Century Irish art, Ireland's largest.


I stayed there a few years ago and loved the ambience. The hotel comprises four townhouses set around a large garden and the art on the walls and over the blazing fireplaces makes the hotel feel comfortable and homey. The hotel provides guests with an audio self-tour of 20 of the works but what's not to be missed is the Art Tea where pastry chef Paul Kelly creates cakes inspired by works in the hotel's collection. (They're almost too beautiful to eat.)

Then there are the hotels that are built with art in mind, such as the Peninsula in Beijing, which has at its heart an art gallery, augmented by an artist in residence program, along with private tours to the city's art districts. The 21c Museum Hotels in the US were founded in 2006 by husband and wife art collectors who wanted to share their collection with their home community in Louisville Kentucky. The concept of hotel as gallery has blossomed across several cities from Chicago to Nashville.

It's not enough just to house the art. The Silo in Capetown has an art concierge on site to take guests through the 300-piece collection. The Beaumont in London famously has a room that is a sculpture by artist Anthony Gormley. The Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas boasts six "art-o-mat" machines that dispense original art.

In Australia we have the Art Series hotels and the Henry Jones Art Hotel in Tasmania, which exhibits the work of artists from the Tasmanian college of the arts. Hotels such as the Westin in Melbourne, Jackalope on the Mornington Peninsula and the Langham in Sydney have significant artworks on the walls and in the grounds.

Even if you're not a guest, most hotels encourage art lovers to browse the art in their lobbies and other public spaces. It's often museum quality - without the entrance fee.