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The National Gallery

Home > London > Art | Exhibitions | Free | Fun Things To Do | Galleries
by Bastion Harrison (subscribe)
Freelance writer and poet from London; if you would like to read my poetry, please check out my book, 'Poems on the Page', available from
Published March 18th 2015
Come and See a Masterpiece
the national gallery
The National Gallery

Famous for its landmark of Nelson's Column and its once pestilent pigeons, Trafalgar Square attracts flocks of tourists and local visitors. But while some throw their well earned pennies into the fountains or to the buskers floating on broomsticks, others are enjoying lots of cultural entertainment for free.

national gallery
Entrance Hall

In 1831, Parliament decided that Trafalgar Square was the perfect place to build a spectacular building that would compare to the magnificence of other countrys' national galleries, such as the Louvre in Paris.

national gallery

The National Gallery opened in 1838, and meant for the free enjoyment and education of all. To begin with, there was no formal policy on what the gallery would house. What was displayed were merely paintings that were of particular interest to the Trustees.

national gallery

By the 1850s, however, the gallery came under criticism because there of a lack of early Italian works, so a new director travelled across Europe to expand their repertoire. Soon the gallery had accumulated such a vast collection that there was not enough room to hold them all, so in 1876, the building was extended. Today there are almost seventy rooms featuring artworks dating from 1250 - 1900.

national gallery

After being awed by the majestic entrance, you'll enter the central hall, that leads to all the different wings. If you are looking for a specific period, I would recommend picking up a site map, because you can easily get lost. Not that there is anything wrong with getting lost in art.

national gallery

I like The National Gallery more than other galleries in London such as Tate Britain, Tate Modern, The Serpentine, etc. That is because the focus is on traditional and classical art rather than the modern and the abstract. At The National Gallery you can look at a painting and actually be able to tell what it is a painting of.

national gallery, whistlejacket

Most of the paintings would fall into the category of Realism, and I don't think you can get much more realistic than George Stubbs painting a life size portrait of Whistlejacket, the Marquess of Rockingham's racehorse.

national gallery, john constable

Out of all the paintings in the gallery, my absolute favourite is John Constable's Cenotaph in Memory of Sir Joshua Reynolds. The dark shadows create a feeling of solemnity, but in contrast, the warm orange tones gives it an uplifting mood - one that celebrates the circle of life, rather than the mourning of death. That sense is increased because the monument is surrounded by nature - a stag in the foreground and two parallel lines of trees add depth; as does the light from the sky breaking through the clearing.

national gallery, john constable

If only death could always be this peaceful. Unfortunately that is not the case, as is seen with the beheading of Lady Jane Grey, and a gruesome image of a man being eaten by a dragon, head first.

national gallery, monet

I'd be lying if I said I was a big art enthusiast; I am not very knowledgeable about different artists, and could not identify one from another. There are, however, a few exceptions, when it comes to the very famous artists. There were just two occasions when I did not have to read the plaque to know who the work was by, the first being Monet's Water Garden at Giverny. A keen horticulturist, Monet painted this Normandy garden from all different angles to create and entire series.

national gallery, van gogh, sunflowers

The other artist I recognised was, of course, Van Gogh and his sunflowers. There were also a number of other less well-known paintings by Van Gogh, including one of two crabs.

national gallery, surprise

In the same room, I saw another painting that I loved by Henri Rousseau, called 'Surprise!', because it reminded me ever so much of Rudyard Kipling and his Jungle Book/Just So Stories.

national gallery, peepshow

The most intriguing piece of art at the gallery was created through optical allusion. Using an invention called a Peepshow, you could see a 3D image of a Dutch House.

national gallery, gift shop

On either side of side exit there is both a cafe and a gift shop. The gift shop is well laid out, with tables themed to different exhibits within the gallery. They have board games, books, apparel, food, and a host of other memorabilia to mark your visit.
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Why? Fun for art lovers
When: 10am - 6pm
Phone: 44 (0)20 7747 2885
Where: The National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, London, WC2N 5DN
Cost: Free
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