The National Gallery in London is home to one of the greatest collections of western European painting in the world. More than 2300 paintings embrace the years between 1250 and 1900. The entire collection is on display in four wings on the main floor where they are arranged by period: 1250-1500, 1500-1600, 1600-1700, and 1700-1900. In addition paintings are displayed on a lower floor. To help the visitor manage the large number of paintings and galleries, various trails and audio guides are provided.
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Monet, Rembrandt, and Leonardo da Vinci are just three of the renowned artists represented. Van Gogh’s famous “Sunflowers” and John Constable’s “The Hay Wain” are part of the collection. Other painters represented include Rubens, Van Dyck, Gainsborough, Michelangelo, and Raphael.
One section of the Gallery called Puzzling Pictures contains pictures with some aspect of history or unusual subject that raises questions. Pictures can give clues to the culture and decorative arts of the time as well as to the inventions of the period. This is an interesting approach to the pictures that is recognized in the Gallery.
The collection is not static. Acquisitions are added whenever possible, and private collectors loan their paintings to the Gallery. The Gallery also puts on exhibitions. “Painting the Family” was one such exhibition. By studying a group of paintings, many clues to family life over the centuries are discovered. In 2002 special exhibits will include one on Madame de Pompadour and one on dress and drapery in painting.
The Gallery mounts touring exhibitions to cities throughout Britain. Study courses and lectures are also available at the Gallery. Scientific methods of today uncover much information. Curators and conservators at the Gallery study pictures to learn about the painter, his methods, and materials.
The National Gallery was born in 1824 when the House of Commons bought a collection of 38 paintings from a banker, John Julius Angerstein, who then opened his home for viewing the collection. As the collection grew through donations and purchases, the need for a permanent and larger gallery was answered in 1831 with a building in Trafalgar Square, a spot accessible to all levels of society. The location was the former home of the King’s Mews.
A new wing (the Gallery’s dome is here) containing seven more rooms was added in 1876. In 1907 construction began on still more galleries, and they were opened in 1910. The three mosaic pavements on the gallery floors were laid in 1928. The gallery was further extended in 1972 with the addition of 12 rooms. The most recent addition was in 1991 when the Sainsbury wing opened. Recently refurbished, its 16 rooms display artwork arranged by artist or school.
The National Gallery was the target of several bombings during World War II. Fortunately, the government had foreseen this possibility and evacuated the paintings to various locations. In 1940 they were re-collected and stored in a slate mine, Manod Quarry, near Ffestiniog, Wales. 200 feet of solid rock protected them.
The National Gallery is a must see for art students and a mecca for lovers of western European painting.
The National Gallery
London WC2N 5DN
Open daily 10am-6pm, on Wednesdays until 9pm.
Closed 24-26th Dec and 1st Jan.
Information line: 020 7747 2885
Admission: free of charge
Shops and restaurant.
Railway: Charing Cross Station
Underground: Charing Cross (Northern and Bakerloo Lines), Leicester Square (Northern and Piccadilly Lines).
Bus: National Gallery: 3, 12, 24, 29, 53, 88, 159, 176.
Around Trafalgar Square: 6, 9, 11, 13, 15, 23, x53, 77a, 91, 109, 139.
Car: Public car park in Whitcomb Street.