Normally when I go to a gallery I just wander around aimlessly for an hour looking at a few big pictures here and there, stopping to read a few of the name tags, and end up missing out most of the good stuff. So when I went to the National Gallery today I decided to do a proper job and get the map and audio guide.
The good thing about doing this is that it takes you straight to the masterpieces and leaves out all the stuff by the boring nobodies. (And let's be honest... there are loads.) They had about 100 pieces mapped out on a little self-guided tour, which took you into every room in the building. It probably took me about an hour-and-a-half to do the thing from start to finish.
It began with the earliest stuff in the Sainsbury Wing (13th-15th century), where you had a lot of golden altar pieces and pictures of Christ being strung up and angels and saints looking sad and depressed. Then it was on to the better stuff -- pictures by Raphael, Michelangelo, da Vinci, Holbein and Titian.
Next up was the 17th-century with stuff by Rubens, Rembrandt, Caravaggio and Vermeer. That was all pretty good. I thought the famous picture of Charles I on horseback was a bit ropey though -- maybe the horses looked a bit different back in those days, but it had the body of a tank and the head of a small poodle. They've got a few of Rembrandt's self-portraits on display too -- including the famous one of him when he was an old man. But the Vermeer -- 'Young Woman Standing at a Virginal' -- what is all the fuss about? The woman is ugly as a sin and I think its the painter's fault. He's done her with a fat face and I refuse to believe that any woman could be that ugly. Caravaggio's stuff is always good, with his pictures of Venice. I saw a few of those in the Sir John Soane's Museum too, when he was doing scenes of London, and I would hang one on my toilet wall, for sure. I wonder how much they sell for?
After that it gets to the busy bit -- where they hang all the Turners and Constables. They've got quite a few famous ones that even I recognised -- 'The Hay Wain' and 'The Fighting Temeraire'. Turner is another one of those painters who I think is a load of rubbish until I see one of his decent ones, and then I think he's amazing. Some of his sunsets look like a kid has done it by scratching paint with a bald brush, but if you see the one with the boats rocking about on the stormy sea then it's almost like it's been painted by another bloke.
After that you get to the best bit, where they hang the stuff by Van Gogh, Cezanne and Monet. Van Gogh is easily the best painter in the building by a million miles. They've got one of his sunflower paintings, the wooden chair, and the best of the lot -- the 'Wheatfield with Cypresses'. Monet has got a few lily pictures and the famous one of the bridge in his back yard. They've also got a few of his famous foggy scenes.