The National Gallery in London is home to what is widely considered as one of the best collections Western European art in the world owing to the representative sampling of art history its provides. It currently houses over 2,300 pieces of art, ranging from the work of Italian polymath Leonardo Da Vinci to Dutch post-Impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh. The paintings stored in the gallery dates between the 13th and 20th century, and are owned exclusively by the British public, under the stewardship of the British government.
Unlike other national galleries in Western Europe, the National Gallery did not originate from a royal or princely gallery. Instead, the British government, by parliamentary decree, established the gallery after purchasing a collection of 38 paintings in 1824 from the estate of naturalised Englishmen and art aficionado, John Julius Angerstein (rumoured to be the son of the Russian empress, Anna Ioannovna).
The gallery was originally based at Angerstein’s townhouse in London (No.100 Pall Mall), and its first exhibition was held on 10 May 1824. However, its small size and inelegant façade, particularly when compared to the Louvre in Paris, became a source of national embarrassment. A temporary move was made to nearby 105 Pall Mall, a reputedly more presentable location, but that proved to be another mistake. The gallery was then shut down while planning and construction of a new location took place. In 1838, the National Gallery moved to its final home in Trafalgar Square, into a beautiful neoclassical building with elements of Greek revival architecture.
Leonardo da Vinci's Virgin of the Rocks, displayed at the National Gallery, London.
The National Gallery’s collection of art work is highly diverse, and contains all the important and culturally significant paintings from the late medieval period to the 20th century. As such, fans of any art movement, be it Expressionism, Art Nouveau, Cubism, or Fauvism, for instance, can find wonderful exhibits to complement their interest.
The gallery also regularly organise themed exhibitions using external collections. In 2018, the highlight of the event calendar is Monet (Monet and Architecture) and Paul Cezanne (Courtauld Impressionists: From Manet To Cézanne ).
Some of the world famous paintings you can view at the National Gallery include:
• The Virgin of the Rocks by Leonardo da Vinci: An evocative and emotional painting featuring Madonna (the virgin) with a halo, an infant Jesus and John the Baptist, and a female angel with wings.
• Sunflowers, by Vincent van Gogh: Part of the Dutch genius’ still life collection, painted in the South of France in August 1888. The painting demonstrated Van Gogh’s ability to create a rich and layered imagery using just three shades of yellow. Although he planned to paint a total of 12 sunflower paintings to decorate his home in Arles, he only finished five versions – and they are currently displayed in Amsterdam, Munich, Philadelphia, Tokyo, and of course, London.
• Venus and Mars by Sandro Botticelli: The Italian Renaissance painter drew Venus and Mars (circa 1485), the Roman gods of love and war respectively, in a seductive, reclining position as a tribute to sensuous love and physical beauty. The presence of infant satyrs in the painting lends a heavy sexual tone to the overall theme of the painting. The model for Venus is believed to be Simonetta Vespucci, reputedly the most beautiful woman in northern Italy and cousin to Amerigo Vespucci, the man who discovered the Americas. There are also accounts that Botticelli himself, like several other nobles in the Florentine court, was in love with the married Simonetta.
Venus and Mars by Sandro Botticelli
The National Gallery is located in a highly strategic area in central London, and can be accessed by car, tube, train, bus, bicycle and even river boats.
Admission is free, but tickets are required for seasonal exhibitions.
The National Gallery exhibition, 'Making Colour'