The exhibition also looks at the various influxes that coincided with traumatic events on the Continent. The reimposition of Spanish Habsburg rule in the Low Countries in 1567 sent a batch of Protestant painters hurrying across the North Sea; the pogroms in 19th-century Eastern Europe meant that Jewish painters such as David Bomberg and Mark Gertler were born here; refugees from the Nazis included Naum Gabo and Oskar Kokoschka; and among contemporary artists Mona Hatoum came here courtesy of the Israel-Palestine conflict while Steve McQueen is an example of artists of West Indian origins.
There is a temptation with the Tate's survey to think that all the artists who settled in Britain were somehow exceptional. But a look at who was at work in Europe at various times gives this the lie. Marcus Gheeraerts arrived in England c. 1567 and courtesy of his stiff, formal portraits became Elizabeth I's principal painter but Italian patrons at the same time could call on the suppleness and dynamism of the likes of Annibale Carracci, Tintoretto and Veronese. While we had the pale-faced court women of Lely, the Spanish had the flesh and blood painted by Velázquez and everyone else had Rubens (including briefly Charles I).
Nevertheless, the British national school founded by Reynolds, Gainsborough, Turner et al would have been impossible without the example of such earlier workmanlike painters: they were the foundation too of our modern internationalism. What this exhibition makes clear, without overplaying the parallels between immigrant painters and the current arguments about the role and value of economic migrants, is just how much we owe our artistic wealth to our porous borders.
The subject of Tate Britain's second new year show picks up on the subject, in this case Picasso and Modern British Art. While Picasso never spent much time here he did strongly influence a variety of British artists — just as he influenced artists everywhere — and this exhibition is an attempt to isolate traces of his DNA in artists as disparate as Ben Nicholson, Graham Sutherland, Francis Bacon, Henry Moore and David Hockney.