For my first 2019 post, I suggest diving into London’s best art collections. Among London’s big museums, the National Gallery may be the most popular. Its architecture, central location and the many art masterpieces it hosts, make it hard to avoid this iconic Gallery when visiting the British capital. Let me present you one of the best Art Collection in London…
The building’s history
The National Gallery was founded after the British government bought a collection of 38 paintings from the merchant John Julius Angerstein (1735–1823) in 1824. As the collection needed a place to be seen by all, it was agreed by the Parliament in 1831 that a building would be built in Trafalgar Square.
There had been long discussions about the best site for the Gallery and Trafalgar Square was finally chosen as it was considered to be at the very centre of London. The new building opened in 1838. And since 1856 it also hosts the historical portraits in the National Portrait Gallery.
On the Gallery’s website, you can learn how the collection was managed during war time. It appears all the masterpieces were sent to Wales to be protected.
A large and free collection!
In London, Art is made affordable. Indeed, several museums or galleries like The National Gallery offer a free entrance to visitors and are particularly good at welcoming families with young kids, by organising creative workshops and playful activities throughout the year.
There, you can visit the permanent collection for free, and even attend completely free guided tours every weekday. Yep!
There is no shortage of great masterpieces at the National Gallery, which highlights the Western European paintings dating from the late medieval and Renaissance Italy to the French Impressionists.
When I first discovered the permanent collection, I liked to look for all the classical paintings I knew from my art courses in Paris.
But it is at the National Gallery that I really learnt about English painters, such as Turner (who appears to me as the real first impressionist).
There also, I discovered other British masters such as Gainsborough, Constable or Hogarth whose paintings I really do appreciate.
I am sometimes stunned by some paintings, like this one from Georges Stubbs: “Whistlejacket” painted in 1762. The plain background enhancing the horse, and the pure lines and shapes of the animal, had a lasting impression on me.
I also enjoy this painting from Akseli Gallen-Kallela called “Lake Keitele”, where the reflexions on the lake seem so real!
The National Gallery displays all the famous painters you can possibly think of, and it’s why I like to go there and focus on different periods and rooms each time.
But I, for sure, will end up every visit with a glance at the Impressionists room: I especially like to admire Van Gogh’s “Two crabs”, which are not as famous as his “Sunflowers” but much more colorful and realistic. I like all the details of the animals in this painting.
And there are a few paintings from Monet, like the “Japanese Bridge”, which I will always be a fervent admirer of, as it reminds me of the visit I made long ago of the artist’s house in France.
If you are planning a visit to the National Gallery, I would recommend that you have a look at the maps to make a selection of what art periods / painters you really fancy and want to discover.
The National Gallery organises Art exhibitions all year round (unfortunately those ones are not free). Here is the 2019 calendar.
I saw the ones dedicated to Delacroix (at The National Gallery) and Picasso (at The National Portrait) in 2016.
I like the exhibitions there, as they always go deeply in the painter’s lives and artworks and we always end up fascinated by their story and achievements.
The Gallery in films
The National Gallery is one of Britain’s best known art institutions. As such, it provides a perfect backdrop in films.
Do you remember the 1999 remake of the Thomas Crown affair? The action settles in the impressionists room …
Or Skyfall, when Bond (Daniel Craig) meets his new Q (Benjamin Whishaw) in front of JMW Turner’s The Fighting Temeraire?
Several other films have been shot in this Art Institution, and more recently in 2014 it has even been the star subject of a film made by american director Frederick Wiseman.
So if you’re not able to wander in the National Gallery in person, at least you can find some ways to virtually soak in the atmosphere of it …
For those planning a visit to London, remember to set aside a couple of hours to discover or rediscover your favourite masterpieces at the National Gallery. There has to be at least one you’ll enjoy!