The National Gallery

In the very heart of London is Trafalgar Square, commemorating the Battle of Trafalgar in 1808, it is a tourist attraction and famous in its own right. It is also home to another British institution, The National Gallery. Belonging to the British People, like the British Museum, everyone and anyone can visit the main collection free of charge (some special exhibitions do charge). Unlike The Louvre, the National Gallery is not comprised of a Royal Collection, rather it was founded when the British Government bought a small collection of paintings in an estate sale in 1824. Its been in public hands ever since, and has thankfully grown considerably to become on the finest, collections in the world.

While not as big as The Louvre in Paris, or The Met in New York, what the National Gallery lacks in numbers it makes up for in depth and quality. Generally speaking the nations collection of paintings is divided over several insitutions. Non-Western Art and Classical Sculpture is housed in the British Museum, Sculptures are housed in the Victoria and Albert Museum, art from the late 20th Century to the present day is in the Tate Modern gallery, and the nations portrait collection lives in the National Portrait Gallery next door to the National Gallery. The remaining collection of over two thousand paintings, covers western art from the 13th to the 20th Century, at the gallery in Trafalgar Square. This is of course generalising the collections somewhat, but is a rough guide to what you’ll find in these galleries.

The Gallery was purpose built to house the nation’s growing art collection in the 1820s. As the collection grew, new wings were added, and continue to do so, the latest gallery was built in 1980s. The gallery continues to raise funds to keep its acquiring new paintings, and prides itself on having the vast majority of its collection on permanent, and free, display. Highlights include Van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers’, and ‘A Wheat-field with Cypresses’, Da Vinci’s ‘The Virgin of the Rocks’, Botticelli’s ‘Venus and Mars’, several works by Titian and Caravaggio, a rare unfinished work by Michelangelo ‘The Manchester Madonna’, and Monet’s ‘The Thames below Westminster’. While no one artist, or era, dominates the collection, this means you can see a wide variety of works by many different artists from several eras in one collection rather easily.

One of the Gallery’s most popular paintings (and my personal favourite) is ‘Whistlejacket’ by British artist George Stubbs. It is not a great landscape, or portrait, rather it is a hyper-realistic depiction of an Arabian Stallion from 1762. What makes it so remarkable, and popular, is that it almost appears to be alive, or at least a photographic image, such is the realism. It is also anatomically accurate, unlike many paintings of horses, this one depicts a completely natural pose of a horse, right down to the detail on the muscles. Stubbs was an expert on equine anatomy, and painted horses in near scientific detail, creating the incredible realism you see today.

The Gallery is at Trafalgar Square, easily reached by bus or you can walk 200 meters from Leicester Square, Charing Cross, Embankment or Westminster Tube Stations. Open everyday, except January 1st, December 24th-26th, from 10am to 6pm, on Fridays at 9pm. It is free for all (no tickets required), exhibitions are held throughout the year and may charge – tickets are available either online or from a dedicated desk in the Gallery. Maps are available online or at the gallery, tours are also available free of charge, just ask at information. There is a restaurant, tea room and espresso bar on site. Please be aware flash photography is forbidden in all galleries and it is also requested that you keep noise levels to a minimum in the galleries.

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