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The cities we live in and visit are exciting, busy and vibrant. But they’re not always beautiful. Skyscrapers, vast expanses of concrete, urban sprawl and lack of planning can lead to some less than pleasing sights. We hate to call cities ‘ugly’, but some top the polls as being eyesores time and time again.

But beauty is in the eye of the beholder. One man’s eyesore is another man’s masterpiece, so we wondered what these cities would look like if they were painted in the style of famous artists. 

Charleroi, Belgium

Vincent Van Gogh

Charleroi Transformed

If you’ve heard of Charleroi in Belgium, it’s probably down to its reputation as ‘the most depressing city in Europe’. This reputation is built on its post-industrial appearance, dotted with derelict factories and abandoned slag heaps. Not things you’d gaze upon to lift your mood. 

We’d argue that nobody can make somewhere look quite so magical as Van Gogh. His bold, dramatic and colourful pieces evoke emotion and wonder, so early evening or ‘avond’ would be the perfect time to capture Charleroi at its best.   

Charleroi Van Gogh

Benidorm, Spain

Wassily Kandinsky


Despite being a much loved holiday destination (particularly for Brits), Benidorm isn’t favoured for its looks. The density of high-rise hotels built to pack in the tourists makes this destination a far cry from a picturesque Spanish paradise. 

What if we look at Benidorm through the eyes of Kandinsky? Colours and composition are key, and suddenly skyscrapers and busy beachfronts become bright, vibrant and striking. Perhaps this style captures the true emotion of such a fun and vibrant holiday destination. 

Benidorm Kandinsky

Hull, UK

J.M.W Turner

Hull Transformed

As a romantic painter with a focus on colour and light, what would Joseph Mallord William Turner find of beauty in Hull? A combination of nature and industry, both of which fascinated him can be seen here.  

Is the Humber bridge a wonderful feat of engineering or a gateway to a grey, dirty city? We think Turner would see the former and capture the atmosphere perfectly. The way the light hits the water of the river and the bridge cuts across the horizon makes a fabulous image. 

Hull JMW Turner

Swindon, UK

Paul Cezanne

Swindon Transformed

Hailed the ‘ugliest town in England’, Swindon is known for looking drab and industrial. Notable landmarks seem to be a plethora of roundabouts and car parks, and a bypass to help people miss the city out altogether. Surely it can’t be that bad?

We like to imagine Cezanne would bring his beautiful artistic style to the setting, claiming ‘Swindon n’est pas une plongee’ (Swindon is not a dive).  His post-impressionist painterly brushstrokes and sun-baked colour blocks can persuade us that even this disused diving board is a thing of great beauty. Swindon would be proud. 

Swindon Cezanne


Claude Monet


A congested city, full of massive highways with little attention to design or city planning, L.A doesn’t top the list for its beauty. This congestion leads to smog and urban sprawl makes the city difficult to get around. Add expanses of concrete and wide streets and we’re not painting a picture of elegance or charm.

Perhaps impressionism can lend a hand. Monet’s focus on brush strokes, light and colour takes the emphasis off the industrial and brings out the natural. This scene over water looks quite idyllic, and we’d be happy to gaze across the ‘Riviere de Los Angeles’.  

LA Monet

Detroit, USA

Joaquin Sorolla


Spanish painter Sorolla was known for radiant colour, confident brush strokes and capturing everyday life. We imagine that Sorolla wouldn’t so much be focusing on the bridge, buildings and traffic of Detroit but instead how the sunlight played off the objects in question, creating dappled effects of light that could only be found in an urban setting. 

The amount of concrete, brick and glass is what gives Detroit its reputation for being an ‘ugly’ city. But an artist like Sorolla would notice the way the light danced off the glass, and how the concrete and brick buildings created dense areas of shade. Detroit through Sorolla’s eyes is quite stunning!

Baltimore, USA

Edouard Manet

Baltimore Transformed

Densely populated, busy, outdated and dirty, Baltimore is a fairly neglected US city. It’s gritty, dull and dreary. Its inner harbour is one of the more pleasant areas though, with plenty to see and explore. Despite this, the city isn’t quite the inspiring place you’d have expected “The Star-Spangled Banner” to have been penned. 

Manet would be a good choice for painting a contemporary urban scene of this city. His quick, broad brush strokes would help to capture the movement around the working seaport and his realism doesn’t put too much of a glossy sheen on things. We can see the beauty of Baltimore through his eyes.       

Baltimore Manet

Houston, USA

Frank Benson

Houston Transformed

One of the biggest problems we hear about Houston is its ‘lack of zoning’ which has lead the city to appear wild and overgrown. Couple this with the usual concrete jungle, busy with traffic and industry and beauty isn’t often what we see.   

But even concrete is influenced by light and shade. We like to think that Benson would have focused on the ‘hazy’ glow that appears when the sunlight hits the concrete roads of Houston. With primitive brushstrokes his impressionist style brings a certain allure even to the mundane. 

Houston Frank Benson

Amman, Jordan

Piet Mondrian

Amman Transformed

The capital of Jordan ranks in the ‘ugly’ polls for various reasons. A sea of buildings in one colour doesn’t leave a lot of variety to get excited about. Add to this a lack of vegetation and a lot of dust, the city becomes dry and dirty looking. Buildings are often run down too, and most areas are crowded and busy with traffic.

Amman’s block buildings and lack of colour lend themselves to Mondrian’s abstract style. Hints of colour in a geometric composition provide a different view of this city.

Cairo, Egypt

Henri Matisse


Covering many artistic styles in his long career, Matisse eventually transitioned to creating cut out collages using paper and scissors. These pieces of colour and contrast used abstract shapes to distil their subject down to its essential elements. 

Perhaps that’s just what we need to find the beauty in busy and industrial Cairo. Dirt, smog and incomplete brick buildings tarnish the image many of us dream this city will be. But pare it back to its basic elements Matisse cutout style and the variety of shapes and styles creates an interesting and visually striking landscape. 

Cairo Matisse

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