London National Gallery, Paintings and masterpieces

National Gallery of London

National Gallery of London

The National Gallery of London is an art museum well known not only to residents and visitors to the British capital, but also to the world. It is important not to be confused with the National Portrait Gallery. It is in the top most visited institutions, in popularity second only to the Louvre and the British Museum. According to statistics, about 6,416,724 people visit the gallery in a year.

The second reason to be proud is its venerable age. The founding date of the museum is considered to be 1824. It was during this time period that the British House of Commons acquired the first exhibits. They were 38 paintings by the deceased Julius Angerstein. The collection cost 57,000 pounds. The exhibit had long been on display in Angerstein’s home in Pall Mall. The size of the building was compared to other national galleries and ridiculed in the press.

In 1831 Parliament agreed to erect a new house for the art museum. Construction took seven years, and in 1838 another structure appeared in Trafalgar Square. The gallery’s advantageous location in central London made art more accessible to all classes of society: it was convenient for the rich to get there in their carriages from the west, and for the poor to walk from the East End.

The collection grew, there was not enough space. The problem was solved by expanding the building. In 1991 the building acquired a Sainsbury’s Wing, a prime example of postmodernist architecture in Britain. As a result of numerous reconstructions only the facade – the one facing Trafalgar Square – remained from the original building.

National Gallery of London

Paintings and masterpieces of the London National Gallery

The museum keeps within its walls 2,300 canvases dating from the middle of the 13th century to the beginning of the 20th century. The total area of the gallery is 46 396 m², which is equivalent to six soccer fields.

The first place to start looking at the collection is the entrance, next to the portico, where the marble mosaic “Awakening of the Muses” is located. The pattern was created in 1933 by a native of Russia, Boris Anrep. In the vestibule, pay attention to some more compositions, made by our compatriot.

Next to the western entrance are two allegorical female figures, once personifying victory. They are surrounded by smaller figures. The statues hold painting brushes and other tools. They are accompanied by other sculptures.

National Gallery of London


The gallery has five floors, including the underground floors. Most of the exhibits are concentrated on the second floor. The masterpieces of the National Gallery of London are arranged into rooms in chronological order.

Rooms 51-66 are occupied by paintings from the 13th to 16th centuries, rooms 2-14 – by masterpieces of the 16th-17th centuries, exhibition space No. 15-32 is devoted to paintings of the 17th-18th centuries, rooms 33-46 – to works of the 18th-20th centuries.

  1. Some of the most famous paintings on display at the National Gallery of London include Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, Rubens’ Landscape with Castle, Velazquez’ Venus with Mirror, Leonardo da Vinci’s Madonna in the Rocks, and Caravaggio’s Dinner at Emmaus.
  2. Pay attention to Titian’s works, too. There are 20 masterpieces by the Italian painter. Recent acquisitions include Diana and Actaeon and Diana and Callisto. The Venetian’s works were bought jointly with the National Gallery of Scotland for £95 million.
  3. The list of talented Italians continues with Bellini, Mantegna, Antonio Pisanello, Filippino Lippi and Sandro Botticelli. The museum keeps 12 paintings by Raphael, including the Madonna and Rose.
  4. Rembrandt fans won’t be disappointed either. The collection of the Dutch master has 26 works. There are also several self-portraits of the painter made at the age of 34 and 63.
  5. Separate mention should be made of the court painters of the English monarchs – Hans Holbein and Antonis van Dyck. The latter’s collection consists of 24 works. The South Dutchman is known as the creator of a new type of decorative portrait.
  6. You can also admire the paintings of German, French, Dutch and Flemish artists. Thus, in the top 30 best paintings of the institution, include works by Jan Vermeer, Paul Cézanne, Mabuse, Georges Seurat, Claude Monet, François-Hubert Drouet and others.
British Museum in London, pictures and displays

In addition to permanent exhibitions, the National Gallery of London organizes temporary exhibitions and thematic workshops and seminars, as well as performances by musicians.

Paintings by Vermeer

Interesting facts about the British National Gallery

Initially, the institution did not have an official collection policy, and new exhibits were purchased according to the tastes of the founders. In the 1850s they were criticized for buying works of the early Italian schools, then called primitive.

The late-Victorian interiors of the museum, which went out of fashion in the 20th century, were also criticized. The design of the ceiling in the lobby did not please the director Charles Holmes and was painted over with white paint. The details of the rooms also changed. The neutral furnishings created did not distract from contemplation of the masterpieces. By the 1980s, however, the Victorian style was no longer considered anathema, leading to restoration work to restore the interiors.

In 2014, Frederick Wiseman made a documentary that featured the gallery, its staff and exhibitions. The museum can also be seen in some scenes of the TV series “Sherlock.”

The institution now has not only an exhibition area, but also a full-fledged lounge area with an espresso bar and cafe. The interiors of the facilities match the spirit – large windows and walls hung with paintings. To avoid getting lost, buy a map of the building for £2. The website is free to download.

In the store at the establishment you will find not only memorable souvenirs, but also books on art, exclusive paintings, interior items, unusual things – a bag with a fragment of a painting by Leonardo da Vinci or a pillow with a picture of other paintings.

National Gallery of London

National Gallery of London opening hours

The attraction welcomes guests every day, with the exception of Christmas holidays from December 24 to 26. Opening hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Fridays.

National Gallery of London on Google Panorama: View inside

Price at the National Gallery of London

Admission is free. You only need tickets for some events and exhibitions.

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Free services also include an audio tour for blind and visually impaired visitors, photography, and use of wireless internet.

National Gallery of London

How to get there

The exact address of the landmark is Trafalgar Square, WC2N 5DN. The main entrance to the building is at the Sainsbury’s Wing. Get there by public transportation, car, bicycle, or on foot.

By subway : 160 meters from your destination is the Charing Cross subway station – the intersection of the Bakerloo and North lines. In the map, they are shown in brown and black. Keep in mind, the Northern line is branched – look carefully at the name of the terminus.

By bus: the surrounding area is dotted with bus stops. For example, to Trafalgar Square (Stop G) you will get transport numbers 139, 176, N21, N89, N199, N343, to stop F – numbers 11, 15, 91, N11, N15, N91, N550, N551. Walk straight along Duncannon Street until you see a majestic building with columns and a dome.

By bicycle : The nearest bicycle parking lots are on Orange Street, St. Martin’s Street, St. Martin’s Place and Duncan Street.

Walking : The distance from Piccadilly Square is about 500 meters. If you want to walk, walk along Coventry Street, Haymarket Street and Orange Street.

By car: It takes 50 minutes from Heathrow airport. Take the M4 and A4. The route includes paid sections. There are public underground parking lots near the square and in Leicester Square. The service is not free.

By cab: The UK capital abounds in cabs. Some of the most popular include Uber, Kabbee, Kapten, Bolt. Available through apps.

National Gallery of London on Google Panorama: View from the outside

The top five masterpieces of the London National Gallery

Londoners tend to go to museums exclusively for the opening of a high-profile new exhibition. Tickets sold out months in advance, the hustle and bustle, the noise, the crowds in front of each painting. The pleasure of such an immersion in beauty is often questionable. So we have decided to remind you of permanent exhibitions in London museums. Spacious half-empty halls, the greatest masterpieces of world painting and all this in open access. In today’s Art Column we take a walk through the largest collection of classical art, the National Gallery of London.

Jan van Eyck – Portrait of the Arnolfini Couple

National Gallery paintings

Jan van Eyck. “Portrait of the Arnolfini Couple,” 1434.

Perhaps the most recognizable work of the National Gallery is the paired portrait of the Arnolfini couple by the Dutch artist Jan van Eyck. This painting is considered one of the most enigmatic in the history of art. It appeared as if from nowhere. Among the primitive madonnas and angular miniatures of Dutch painters of the XV century suddenly born a masterpiece, on which you can discern the smallest details of the situation, painted with photographic precision. Perfectly traced surfaces of fabrics, gleaming metal, stone and wood, the play of highlights and reflections. The painting stood out so much that some even suspected the artist of artifice. The English painter David Hockney came up with an entire theory about a huge concave mirror, which Van Eyck supposedly used to project his reflection onto the canvas and then trace it. Hockney’s idea fails miserably when confronted with historical facts: Dutch craftsmen in the fifteenth century could not yet blow such large glasses.

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The mirror is the key element of Van Eyck’s painting and the most obscure. Right in the center of the painting behind the couple’s backs is a round, convex mirror. It perfectly reflects the outlines of the room, the open window, the characters standing in front of the viewer and even … the artist who is painting the couple. And indeed, on the wall is the inscription “Jan van Eyck was here”. By the way, the painter is not the only inhabitant of the mirror reflection. Behind his back you can see the profile of another man. Who is this man? An accidental guest or a participant in the event?

By the way, what exactly is going on here? There is no definite answer to this question either. Most art historians believe that this is a ceremonial portrait of the couple, painted after the death of the wife. The fact that the heroine is dead is hinted at by the candles extinguished above her head and the scenes from the Gospel after Christ’s death on the woman’s side. It is just as likely, though, that the opposite scenario could be assumed. It is not the end of the marriage before us, but its first moments, and Giovanni Arnolfini and his wife are depicted here on their wedding day. Don’t be embarrassed by the woman’s huge belly – it’s just the folds of her luxurious attire, which was in fashion in the 15th century.

The relationship between the characters is also not entirely transparent. On the one hand there are trembling joined hands of spouses and a symbol of fidelity – a dog. On the other hand, the fruit lying on the window reminds one of the apple and the fall into sin. Was everything smooth between the couple? Another unanswered question.

Paul Cézanne – The Great Bathing Women

Paul Cézanne. “The Big Bathers, 1900.

Londoners are incredibly lucky – in the National Gallery is the only European copy of the “Big Bathers” by Paul Cézanne (the other three went to the American museums). This painting changed the face of art, launching the avant-garde. Through the discoveries of the Bathers, Cézanne was recognized as the “father of modern art” and the forerunner of Cubism. What is so revolutionary about The Big Bathers?

At first glance – quite ordinary scene with naked women, who did not draw such. And indeed, Cézanne takes the most ordinary subject in painting – the naked bodies on the background of nature. But makes of it something unimaginable. Instead of the usual natural landscape and seductive curves of the female body appear some heavy clumsy mass, painted in different colors. The bathers look like boulders of stone. By the way, it’s not only people who are “stone” in Cezanne’s painting, but also trees, water, and even the air itself. There is no emptiness in the painting, one pictorial block rests against the other. After the weightless and sunny brushstrokes of the Impressionists, Cézanne’s heavy and dense air looks almost terrifying.

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Painted at the end of his life, The Big Bathers are the last, but by no means the only ones in the artist’s legacy. Bathers and Bathers is one of Paul Cézanne’s favorite subjects. Throughout his life, the artist returned to his favorite motif hundreds of times. And with each new swimmer more and more the main principle of the artist – the image is not bodies and objects, but abstract clusters of matter. In the last four “Bathers,” he finally achieves that the perception of the subject is no longer dictated by its external form.

By the way, there is a funny fact about Cézanne’s Bathers. Despite the fact that one of the main themes of his work was the nude, the artist never used the services of models. Cézanne suffered from a pathological fear of touch, avoided women and preferred to paint nudes from photographs. However, Cézanne no longer needed any verisimilitude in depicting the body. He ushered in a new era in painting, where the artist creates his own universes, without regard to realism.

Vincent van Gogh – Sunflowers

Vincent van Gogh. “Sunflowers,” 1888.

The National Gallery of London managed to get hold of the main still life from Van Gogh’s famous series of Sunflowers. Van Gogh began painting pictures of flowers in 1888, soon after moving to Arles. All summer he waited for the arrival of his friend and colleague Paul Gauguin. Van Gogh was very self-conscious about the modesty of his lodgings and decided to decorate his rooms with floral still lifes in order to soften the impression of his guest. Thus was born the idea of painting a series of paintings with sunflowers.

The sunflowers from the London Gallery are painted in a candidly simplified manner, as if by a child’s hand: the horizon is marked with a thin blue line, the background has no depth and looks like a colored cardboard backdrop or a child’s drawing. The flowers themselves are also painted flat. And only a pair of sunflowers leaning in a complex angle falls out of this deliberate primitivism. They are the ones that make the canvas come alive, make it real. The smallest detail pulls Van Gogh’s painting out of ornamentality and takes it into reality. Van Gogh mixed in a single painting perfectly ordinary, earthly flowers, bent under its own weight, and fantastic creations of nature – which are not flowers anymore, but small luminaries, collected in a vase.

William Turner – “The Last Voyage of the Ship of Valor.”

William Turner. “The Last Voyage of the Ship of Valor,” 1839.

It’s hard to imagine an English art museum without British art superstar William Turner. The National Gallery holds many of his works, among them the legendary The Last Voyage, which art theorist John Ruskin considered “the last absolutely perfect picture he (Turner – ZIMA) ever painted,” and writer William Thackeray considered the best “of all that ever graced the walls of any academy or came off the easel of any artist.”

The idea for this painting came to him under very sad circumstances: he was seeing off his friend Lord Egremont for the last time and suddenly saw several small tugboats pulling a huge vessel along the Thames. It was the veteran of the Battle of Trafalgar, the ship Brave. She had served her time and was on her last voyage, to the graveyard of ships in Rotherhayt. This condemned hulk so impressed Turner that he immediately set to work. The experience of his friend’s death mingled with the last voyage of the giant ship, and the result was a canvas of unimaginable depth.

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The painting created a sensation at an exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1839. It was the most poignant and luminous of Turner’s paintings. The ship does not portray light, but literally glows from within. To achieve this effect, Turner even sacrificed historical truth. In reality, the Brave was dark yellow, but in his painting it is white, as if woven from a weightless cloud and reflected light. Like a spirit that no longer belonged to this world. In contrast to the ethereal sailing boat, the tugboat pulling it is painted in black.

Turner considered this one of his best works (and with good reason!). He refused to sell it and kept it as a talisman in his studio until his death.

Diego Velázquez – Venus with Mirror

National Gallery paintings

Diego Velazquez. “Venus with a Mirror, circa 1647-1651

Another iconic painting that has reached the people of Britain is Venus by the famous 17th-century Spaniard Diego Velázquez. At the time, Velazquez’s homeland was subject to strict ecclesiastical censorship. No liberties such as the naked female body or the ancient goddess of love, the Spanish artists could not afford. But during his trip to Italy, Velázquez saw the enchanting Venus of Giorgione and Titian and decided to paint his own version. Fortunately, he enjoyed the favor of the Spanish king, thanks to which even a nude female figure with quite distinct erotic overtones got away with it.

Unlike the paintings of Italian painters, Velascas’ Venus is not a perfect antique goddess, but a real earthly woman. He is known to have painted her with his lover, an Italian beauty. Note that the reflection of her face in the mirror is blurred – so the artist helped keep his model anonymous. In contrast to the classical image of a slumbering and inactive Venus, the artist depicted action – his Venus is looking into the mirror. Such an unusual angle immediately attracts attention, the viewer finds herself in the holy of holies of the ancient goddess. She looks at her own reflection while we peek over her shoulder.

The fate of this painting was not easy. In 1914, the English suffragette Marie Richardson broke into the National Gallery and cut the canvas with a butcher knife. For her deed, the girl ended up in prison and even wrote about this story in her memoirs. Fortunately, the painting was restored and a hundred years later, it still draws the eyes of visitors to the National Gallery.

For another iconic painting from the National Gallery, see “Did the Madonna on the Rocks Really Paint by Leonardo?”

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