I’d be the first to admit that visiting art galleries isn’t normally a top priority of mine when travelling, but that doesn’t mean to say that I haven’t any interest at all.
Looking at works of art is very subjective, and so it’s probably a good idea to have an understanding on what type of art is on display at the National Gallery and where you can find what you’re looking for.
Overlooking Trafalgar Square, the National Gallery has over 2,300 paintings that belong to UK citizens and consequently is free to go in. You can either walk up the steps and enter through the portico, or better still take the Getty entrance on the right, where, not only is there a lift for people who need it, but also other facilities such as cloakroom, toilets, coffee bar, café, restaurant, shop, and information point.
The lift will whisk you up to Level 2 where practically all the paintings are located. The layout is arranged in a total of four wings - the Sainsbury Wing (13th-15th cent), the West Wing (16th cent), the North Wing (17th cent) and the East Wing (18th-early 20th cent). The Sainsbury Wing is a modern extension added in 1991. In some ways this makes it slightly more confusing because although it houses the earliest paintings, the rooms are numbered the highest (from 51 to 66). Other than that all the other wings run in chronological order.
Given that the name is The National Gallery, you might think that it just houses British works of art, but in actual fact it exhibits the country’s collection of Western European paintings including Renaissance, Baroque and Impressionism (for the National Gallery of British Art you need to go to Tate Britain on Millbank).
Some of the highlights include (one of) Vincent van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers’ in Room 45, John Constable’s ‘Haywain’ in Room 34 and Anthony van Dyck’s ‘Equestrian Portrait of Charles I in Room 31.
The gallery encourages people from all walks of life, including children, and with the added incentive of free entry, it’s no wonder that with over 6 million visitors a year, it’s one of the most visited art galleries in the world. According to Wikipedia, only The Louvre in Paris and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York have more visitors.
The National Gallery really requires more than one visit to do it justice, but armed with the information you need beforehand, at least you should be able to see what interests you the most.
For all the current information including exhibitions don’t forget to check out their website below.
This art gallery is arranged chronilogically, through 4 different wings, so I found it easy enough to just pick out the areas I wanted to see [since i didn't have time to do the whole place justice]. They had plenty by the artists I like such as Van Gogh, Renoir, Cezanne & Monet and I liked what I saw and the way it was arranged.
The collection comprises 2200 paintings with 1000 being on display at any one time.
This wing which shows paintings from 1260-1510 is located in a separate building left of the main one. The collection is on the 2nd floor linked to the main building by a bridge.
The Sainsbury Wing was opened in 1991. It is a gift (50 million £) from Lord Sainsbury of Preston Candover and his brothers The Hon. Simon Sainsbury (*) and Sir Timothy Sainsbury.
My preferred painting here is the Arnolfini portrait by Jan Van Eyck (room 56). This is one of the highlights of Flemish 15th c. school "Flemish Primitives" (see my tips on my Brussels museum pages Royal Museum of Fine Arts ).
Flemish primitives were not the first to use oil paints but they excelled in it and Van Eyck was a master in this technique which allowed him to depict with great subtlety the effects of light on the fabrics and clothes.
Arnolfini was an Italian merchant from the town of Lucca near Pisa. He lived in Bruges at the time that this Flemish town was an important trade centre.
It is often taught that Arnolfoni's wife is pregnant but this is not sure; the full-skirted dress was fashionable in that time (1434) it seems.
In the same room is a portrait of "A Woman" (photo 4) from Robert Campin (Flemish school 15th c.) also identified as the "Master of Flémalle". In my ranking of women portraits I would put this portrait on the same rank as "La Joconde".
In the same room 56, the best of the Sainsbury wing, are also portraits from Petrus Christus another follower of Van Eyck.
Another remarkable painting in the Sainsbury wing, room 58, is "Venus and Mars" from Sandro Botticelli (1485).
Among my favoured paintings of this absolutely remarkable collection, mainly 15th century works is another extraordinary portrait like "The Doge Leonardo Loredan" from Giovanni Bellini (room 62).
(*)Simon Sainsbury who died in 2006 bequeathed 5 impressionist paintings (Monet, Degas, Gauguin, Rousseau) to the National Gallery and 13 to the Tate Gallery for an estimated value of 100 million £.
No photos allowed. My illustrations are from the web.
The highlights of this 16th c. department of the National Gallery are the Italians:
Raphael, 'The Madonna of the Pinks',
Titian, 'Bacchus and Ariadne',
Michelangelo, 'The Entombment',
Leonardo da Vinci, 'The Virgin of the Rocks',
All of the begin of the 16th c. This century continues the tradition of the large religious paintings, but portraits as well official as private get more and more importance. Mythology is also a main subject of paintings.
Among all these classical Italian paintings one work from Bronzino surprises by its "cool" eroticism "the Allegory with Venus and Cupid" (±1545). The concept of this painting is an enigma with symbols and emblems from mythology and heraldry (pic 1).
In total contrast with the Italians is a work from Pieter Bruegel the Elder " The Adoration of the Kings" (1564). Surprising is the person on the extreme right wearing spectacles. It is an ironic manner of Bruegel to show the inability of the assistants to see the significance of Jesus. The soldiers reflect the Spanish occupation of the Netherlands in that period. (pic 2 & 3)
A remarkable portrait in this department is the "Lady with a Squirrel and a Starling" (1526) (pic 4) and, of course, "The Ambassadors" (room 4) from Hans Holbein the Younger.
Landscapes were one of the major themes of the 17th c. paintings especially in the Netherlands.
Indeed the Dutch Golden century produced thousands of landscapes of all kinds:
River views and seaside landscapes, "green" landscapes often with a cottage under some threes, winter landscapes usually with skaters on a frozen river or pond, town landscapes and these interiors of churches which were a Dutch speciality.
These thousand of landscapes were painted not on order but to be sold to anybody who wanted to decorate his interior. Many Dutch families owed such small sized paintings for decoration. These paintings are most often of good quality but do not necessarily show much originality. Shall I say that a cottage and trees from Jacob van Ruisdael, is not very different from other cottages in a wood by the same Van Ruisdael.
The National Gallery has a large number of these Dutch paintings which are quite agreeable to look at especially for the visitor feeling saturated with religious and mythological scenes.
Outstanding among these landscapes is a painting from Meindert Hobbema which by its originality and some symbolism stands out in this field of art.
"Het Laantje van Middelharnis - The Avenue at Middelharnis" (1689) is remarkable by the perspective effect given by the upward-pointing trees receding from the foreground to the village and church in the distance (room 21).
Unfortunately, his other works have not the majesty of the above painting and are a repetition of subjects like trees around a pool and water-mils.
Another highlight of the landscapes in this North Wing (room 21) is the "River Landscape with Horseman and Peasants" (1659) by Aelbert Cuyp. This is the most beautiful landscape of this Dutch painter very appreciated by British collectors. In his masterly handling of the sunlight Aelbert Cuyp approaches Claude le Lorrain (ref. my tip on Le Louvre).
No amateur of paintings and more generally arts should omit to visit the National Gallery and its remarkable collections of the North wing.
This is in my opinion the best department of the National Gallery by its diversity and quality.
The highlights here are:
Vermeer, "A Young Woman standing at a Virginal" (room 25),
Van Dyck, "Equestrian Portrait of Charles I" (room 31),
Caravaggio, "The Supper at Emmaus" ,
Claude Le Lorrain, "Seaport with the Embarkation of Saint Ursula" (room 20) (see my comment on this painter in my Le Louvre tips),
Velázquez, "The Rokeby Venus" (room 30),
Rubens, "Samson and Delilah",
Rembrandt, "Self Portrait at the Age of 34".
Dutch, Flemish, Italian, Spanish and French schools of the 17th c. are on display in the North Wing with excellent works.
All types of paintings are present: the large works with religious and mythological subjects and the small sized paintings introduced by the Dutch school showing landscapes, genre paintings, private portraits.
My preferences go to the Vermeer and a Pieter de Hooch "The Courtyard of a House in Delft" (room 25).
There is also in this North Wing a unique landscape from Rubens:
"A View of Het Steen in the Early Morning" (room 29). Surprising a landscape by Rubens showing a "double light" effect! He had bought this manor house near Mechelen and enjoyed there the pleasures of country life.
Landscapes of all kinds were one of the major themes of the 17th c. paintings especially in the Netherlands.
I will come back on these landscapes of the North Wing.
What I like with the National Gallery is that the pleasure continues after the 17th c. and goes on to the 19th c. with the Impressionists.
It is always a pleasure to view or view again the most beautiful landscape "The Hay Wain" (1821) by John Constable (room 34). The painting found no buyer in England but had great success when exhibited in France.
Another British painter William Turner is on display in this department with the "The Fighting Temeraire tugged to her Last Berth to be broken up, 1838" (room 34). This painting of the famous vessel "Temeraire" (ref. Admiral Nelson at Trafalgar) was voted as the "greatest painting in Britain".
It is now time to visit the "classical' impressionists with several Monet such as "the Gare St-Lazarre" and "The Water-Lily Pond", Pissaro with "The Boulevard Montmartre at Night", and not forget the "Sunflowers" of Van Gogh.
This mostly remarkable collection of impressionists is the cherry on the cake of the National Gallery which I consider as one of the three best painting museums in Europe with the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin.
I visited the National Art Gallery in 1971. After that, with the kids, some other museums seem preferable.
However, I remember the quality of the collection, and specially, my friend Joõo with an open mouth in front of a Giotto's painting, from the 14th century.
London is a city that has endless amount of attractions for all ages and types ….
The National Gallery at Trafalgar Square literally in central London ranks among the world's best museums and a must do in a city of must do sites.
Admission is free but donations are accepted for the upkeep of the museum …. we left 4 pounds each.
This is yet another place you can literally spend the entire day in ….
We got there late around 4:00 p.m. and it was still jammed packed … the reason was the museum is opened til 9:00 pm on Fridays.
Several decent priced cafes and restaurants are inside the museum and it offers free wifi throughout.
I would recommend buying a guide book … this place is massive ….
I'm sad to see that one of the five best painting museums in EU is only on position 25 among the things to do in London according to VT!
"De gustibus et coloribus non est disputandum".
To visit the 70 rooms of the National Gallery needs a whole day. Even a museum freak like me gets tired after a few hours, not only the attention but also the legs.
Last year I visited again the NG and noted what were for me the highlights of the museum so as to propose a "best of" for a 2 - 3 hours visit. Of course my highlights result of my own taste. It should be said that I am less enthusiast about religious and mythological subjects, maybe because I have seen too many!
My visit follows the chronological order so that I enter by the Sainsbury wing, level 2 with the 13th to 15th c. paintings (rooms 51 - 66).
Best rooms are nr 56 with the Flemish Primitives van Eyck "the Arnolfini portrait", van der Weyden, Campin ("Portrait of a Woman" which I rank as good as "La Joconde") and Petrus Christus; room nr 58 with a Botticelli ("Venus and Mars") and nr 62 with the famous portrait of Doge Leonardo Loridan (for details see my review here "Sainsbury wing 1260-1510".
By the bridge one reaches the 16th c. paintings department (rooms 1 - 14 in the main building). They are mainly Italians of which I liked in room 8 "the Allegory with Venus and Cupid" from Bronzino. In room 4 are the remarkable portraits the "Lady with a Squirrel and a Starling" and "The Ambassadors" from Hans Holbein the Younger (for details see my review "West wing - Paintings from 1500 to 1600").
Here starts the 17th c. paintings department (rooms 15 - 37).
This is in my opinion the best department of the National Gallery by its diversity and quality. There are many highlights.
Here you will find Vermeer ("A Young Woman standing at a Virginal"), De Hoogh ("The Courtyard of a House in Delft"), Rembrandt, Cuyp ("River Landscape with Horseman and Peasants"), Rubens, Van Dijck, Claude Lorrain ("Seaport with the Embarkation of Saint Ursula"), Velazquez ("The Rokeby Venus"), etc.
Rooms 15, 16, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29 and 31 are absolute must sees.
(for details see my two reviews "North Wing - Paintings from 1600 to 1700" and "North Wing - Landscapes 1600 - 1700").
The last department is that of the 18th - 20th c. paintings (rooms 33 - 46) and attracts many visitors because of the Impressionists.
Best rooms are nr 34 with Constable ("The Hay Wain") and Turner ("The Fighting Temeraire); nr 38 with Canaletto and Guardi, to end with the Impressionists in rooms 43 - 46 ( for details see my review "Paintings from 1700 to 1900").
Photos from the web. Photos not allowed in the NG. I don't understand this policy because all these works of art are in the public domain.
You can spend weeks and still not have enough time to experience all the wonderful artworks. If ever I am in the area I pop in, even if it is just to have a look at Van Gogh's sunflowers. We have tried all tricks to take some photos inside, but the door guards are very quick and there is no way they will allow you to take pics. For that you will have to go to the Saatchi Gallery.
The National Gallery occupies an imposing building on the north side of Trafalgar Square. Like most publicly-owned museums and galleries in London, admission is free, though voluntary donations of £4 per head are encouraged, and there may be a charge for special exhibitions.
There are over 2,300 pictures in the collection, covering the period from the Middle Ages to the early 20th century, including works by Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Titian, Holbein, Rembrandt, Constable, Turner, Stubbs, Renoir and Van Gogh.
One of my personal favourites is 'Whistlejacket' by Stubbs. Although I'm not a particularly 'horsey' type, the animal just seems to leap off the canvas.