> Read Craig’s review of the National Gallery Check out my London blog for a full review of the gallery
The National Gallery is London’s premier art gallery, with over 2,000 works from 1260 onwards. Some of the artists on display include Botticelli, Cézanne, Constable, Monet, Rembrandt, Renoir, Titian, Turner and Van Gogh.
The National Gallery was built in 1837 at the northern end of Trafalgar Square to accommodate a small collection paintings. The Government invested £57,000 in thirty-eight works by Raphael, Rembrandt and Rubens.
Despite the small amount of work on display, the building was soon cramped by the Royal Academy of Arts. This was moved to Piccadilly in 1868, and the works were given room to breathe.
The gallery is split into four different sections: the Sainsbury Wing deals with 1260 to 1510; the West Wing has 1510 to 1600; the North Wing has 1600 to 1700, and the East Wing has everything from 1700 to 1900.
The Sainsbury Wing is the newest part of the gallery – but displays the oldest paintings. Here you can see works from 1260 to 1510, which encompasses the Renaissance and artists like Titian, Raphael and Leonardo da Vinci. One of his best pieces is Virgin and Child with St. Anne and St. John the Baptist. This was painted in 1508, and hangs in a specially darkened room.
Sandro Botticelli’s Venus and Mars depicts the God and Goddess lying on the grass with three mischievous little kids hovering by a fence.
Another famous sight is Jan Van Eyck’s Marriage of the Arnolfini. At the back of the scene hangs a mirror – expertly rendered to display the room in convex.
The West Wing contains mainly French, Italian and Dutch paintings from the High Renaissance. Artists include Michelangelo, Correggio and El Greco.
Be sure to see Hans Holbein’s The Ambassadors. This life-size portrait of Jean de Dinteville and Georges de Selve contains a cleverly-intended illusion: at the front of the scene lies what seems to be a distorted disk, but if you move to the sides (footprints on the floor show you where to stand) then it reveals itself to be a human skull!
The North Wing contains some of the most famous names in art: Rubens; Rembrandt; Van Dyck and Vermeer.
Italians from the 16th and 17th-centuries take primacy, but pride of place goes to Velázquez’s The Toilet of Venus. This painting caused uproar at the height of the Spanish Inquisition because Venus was shown sitting in the nude.
The East Wing is the most popular part of the National Gallery – because it contains the famous British painters. John Constable’s The Hay Wain occupies Room 34, and J W Turner’s The Fighting Téméraire hangs nearby. This masterpiece of light and sky depicts an old decrepit warship being towed to a ship-breaking yard.
Other famous paintings not to be missed are Seurat’s The Bathers at Asnières, and a trio of Vincent Van Gogh masterpieces: Sunflowers; Chair and A Wheatfield, with Cypresses. You can also find works by Gauguin, Cézanne, Monet and Renoir.
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If you enjoy this then try: Courtauld Gallery (walk it in 12 mins or catch a train from Charing Cross to Temple); National Portrait Gallery (you can walk there in less than 1 min); Royal Academy of Arts (you can walk it 10 mins); Tate Britain (walk it in 26 mins or catch a train from Charing Cross to Pimlico) and Wallace Collection (walk it in 26 mins or catch a train from Charing Cross to Bond Street).
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