National Gallery review
If you only have time to visit one art gallery in London then make it this one. This is the granddaddy of galleries. The Tate Modern is supposed to be the most popular by visitor numbers but what have they got on display: a load of crushed up Coke cans and tipped-over paint pots. The National Gallery has got every great painter from the 13th-century onwards: Leonardo Da Vinci, Titian, Turner, Monet, Manet, Rembrandt, Raphael, Botticelli, Canaletto, Vincent Van Gogh... the only guy I can't find is Tony Hart.
I wonder why we like staring at pictures so much? It probably began when we were little kids buying all those packets of six stickers when the World Cup rolled around. We put posters on our bedroom wall, filled up albums with pictures of pets and pals and places we'd been. Then we put them in our wallets, on the mantelpiece, in photo frames by our bed. And now we go on holiday and stare at pictures in an art gallery. Personally I just like popping in here for a bit of peace and quiet and a five-minute sit down before the bus comes. Some people wait in a cafe, some sit on a wet bench by a bus stop, but I like the plush sofa seats in here.
Room 34 is my favourite (the Sackler Room). They could do with a bit of classical music playing in the background but I'll happily sit here staring at those sunsets in the Turners. Do you think those skies were real? Surely he must have dialled those colours up a bit because no one's seen a scene like that. There are only two ways to create a sky like that: a vivid imagination or runaway pollution. But I'd much rather sit under his imaginary clouds than Constable's fluffy country ones opposite.
The impressionist section has all the usual Manets, Monets, Cezannes and Seurats, but the highlight is Vincent Van Gogh's Sunflowers (it's actually out on loan at the moment). Trust him to paint a bunch that was already half-dead. They look like they've been wilting on his windowsill and the sunshine's dried them up. If the guards weren't watching then you could probably tap the side of the picture frame and make them crumble into dust. Most artists paint the most colourful bunch they can find but he was happy with the dead ones. He let them paint the parrots and peacocks, whilst he painted the crows.
They've got a whole room full of Ruben's, a room full of Rembrandt's, a room full of Van Dyck's... that's the difference between this place and the Tate -- half of the stuff at the Tate Modern is filler, whereas the National has got big names everywhere you go. It's worth having a look at Titian's just to marvel at his blue. No wonder he used it so much when it looks like that... blue sky, blue clouds, blue mountains, blue backgrounds, blue clothes and robes... he put a bit of blue in wherever he could because it looked so good. I always think of his blue as the equivalent of those fluorescent yellow socks we used to wear in the eighties.
How much patience must Canaletto have had to paint every leaf on the trees and every little ripple and reflection on the water -- he was like a Polaroid painter who captured the world precisely. He must have had eyes like microscopes because every picture seems like a lifetime's work. I don't think I'd have the patience to paint a scene like that. I'd probably have to be an abstract artist instead because you can do those in five minutes... just kick over a paint pot and press a piece of paper on top.
I usually don't stay in the Sainsbury wing for long because the architecture is cold and the sofa seats have been replaced with flat planks of wood. This is where you'll find all the Bible stuff and early works by Raphael. Trying to track down the Leonardo da Vinci's is an adventure because they've put them in a nook no bigger than a bathroom. You won't believe how tiny his room is, or how many tourists can squeeze inside it. Every time I've come here it's like I've stumbled across a world record attempt for how many people they can squeeze inside a phone box before it bursts. You can only see thin slivers of the pictures past hats and bags and the sides of people's heads because people are standing shoulder to shoulder like they do on the tube.
Events at National Gallery…
|Art exhibitions in May|
|Art exhibitions in June|
|Art exhibitions in July|