The National Gallery holds one of the most valuable and extensive collections of paintings in the world. The building they are housed in, designed by William Wilkins and completed in 1838, is itself quite spectacular, and it’s worth spending some time on the terrace with its excellent view of Trafalgar Square in Whitehall. Outside the building is a monument of James II as a Roman Emperor by Grinling Gibbons inscribed King of England, Scotland, France and Ireland, as well as a bronze replica of Washington’s statue in Richmond, Virginia.
The gallery was founded in 1824 after Parliament provided £57,000 to purchase 38 paintings by famous Angerstein Collection, first seen in the Angerstein Rooms at 100 Pall Mall. Numerous subsequent purchases and donations made it necessary to enlarge the building in 1876 when the dome was added, and further extensions were made in 1887, 1927 and 1929. In 1952, Boris Anrep decorated the entrance buildings with mosaics. In recent years, a new attachment has provided much-needed additional viewing capabilities, and in 1991 the Sainsbury Wing had been opened. The National Gallery’s collections offer an almost complete cross-section of European painting from 1260 to 1920with the greatest treasures that are the collection of Dutch Masters and the Italian schools of the 15th and 16th centuries.
The Sainsbury Wing
The National Gallery Sainsbury Wing presents paintings from 1260 to 1510. The most famous artists are: Fra Angelico (Christ in Majesty), Duccio, Pisanello, Masaccio, Giotto, Paolo Uccello, Piero della Francesca (Baptism of Christ), Cosimo Tura, Andrea Mantegna , Giovanni Bellini (Madonna of the Meadow and Pietà), Carlo Crivelli, Antonio del Pollaiuolo, Sandro Botticelli, Piero di Cosimo (Battle of Centaurs and Lapiths), Leonardo da Vinci (Madonna and Child with St Anne and John the Baptist), and Raphael (The Crucifixion).
The collection of Dutch and Flemish paintings includes: Jan van Eyck (The Marriage of Arnolfini), Hans Memling (Altar of Mary), Dieric Bouts (Mary with the Child), Hieronymus Bosch (Christ with the Crown of Thorns) and Lucas Cranach the Elder (Portrait of a young woman).
The Western Wing
The West Wing of the National Gallery in London presents paintings from 1510 to 1600, including: Michelangelo (The Entombment), Pontormo, Andrea del Sarto, Bronzino, Correggio, Giorgione, Titian (Venus and Adonis and Bacchus and Ariadne), Tintoretto (St George and the Dragon), Paolo Veronese (Adoration of the Magi), Giovanni Battista Moroni, Lorenzo Lotto (Lucretia), Sebastiano del Piombo and El Greco (Jesus Expels the Moneychangers).
German and Dutch paintings include: Albrecht Dürer (the Painter Father), Albrecht Altdorfer (Landscape with Bridge), Hans Holbein the Younger (The Ambassadors), Pieter Bruegel (Adoration of the Magi).
The North Wing
The North Wing at the National Gallery in London presents paintings from 1600 to 1700, including: Peter Paul Rubens (Rape of the Sabine Women and The Straw Hat), Anthonis van Dyck (Charles I on Horseback and The Balbi Children), Franz Hals (Man with a glove), Rembrandt van Rijn (Saskia and Flora and portrait of a Jewish merchant), Jan Vermeer (Lady at the Virginal), Pieter de Hooch, Jacob van Ruisdael (landscape), Carel Fabritius, Gerard Terborch, Meindert Hobbema (The Avenue of Middelharna) and Jan Steen (Two Musicians on a Terrace).
Spanish paintings are: Diego Velázquez, Francisco de Zubarán, Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, Caravaggio (boy bitten by a lizard), Nicolas Poussin (The finding of Moses), Claude Lorrain, Louis le Nain, Philippe de Champagne (Richelieu).
The East Wing
The East Wing of the National Gallery in London presents painting from 1700 to 1920, including: William Hogarth (Marriage à la Mode), Sir Joshua Reynolds (Lady Cockburn and Children), John Singer Sargent, Thomas Gainsborough (The Morning Walk), John Constable (The Haywain) and William Turner (View of Margate and Rain, Steam and Speed).
French paintings include: Antoine Watteau (La Gamme d’Amour), Jean-Baptiste Siméon Chardin, Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, Eugène Delacroix, Honoré Daumier (Don Quixote), Gustave Courbet, Claude Monet (The Waterlily Pond), Edouard Manet , Edgar Degas (dancers), Paul Cézanne (Les Grandes Baigneuses), Auguste Renoir and van Gogh (chair and pipe and sunflowers). Spanish and Italian paintings include: Francisco de Goya (Duke of Wellington), Canaletto (View of Venice), Francesco Guardi and Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (Entombment of Christ).
Tour of the National Gallery
A variety of excellent audio tour options are available from the National Gallery, including some with specific themes that include fascinating explorations of related art. For example the Inspired tour leads guests to paintings known to have provided inspiration for poets and writers, as well as celebrities, some of whom share their favourites. Tours can be downloaded from the gallery website for viewing on devices such as phones and mp3 players, and free maps are available at the audio guide desks. Excellent audio tours are also available for families with children, including Art Detectives where kids follow the trail of two undercover agents investigating a series of unusual art-related events. Free tours are also available, including the fun Talks and Tours program that covers specific paintings or themes.
Tips and tactics: how to get the most out of your visit to the National Gallery
The following tips and tactics will help you get the most out of your National Gallery adventure:
- Shopping: The National Gallery has three shops selling everything from quality gifts, jewelery and clothing. Prints and postcards of all the paintings in the gallery’s collection are also available, as are specialist books from the Sainsbury Wing shop.
- Learning: An excellent lecture program is available with discussions followed by a chance to flex your creativity with the drawing materials available (Fri, 1pm, some evenings, 6.30pm). Fun learning opportunities for kids include free hands-on art workshops and interactive walking tours (workshops fill up quickly, so arrive early).
- Music: Free Friday night music recitals are provided by Royal College of Music students.
- Instruments of the trade: Free paper and pencils are available at all information offices for families with children.
- Food and drink: A variety of dining options are available on site, including an espresso bar, café and restaurant.
Transport to the National Gallery
- By subway (subway): The National Gallery is located in Trafalgar Square and is served by five Tube stations within a short walk: Westminster (District, Circle and Jubilee lines); Embankment (Northern, Bakerloo, District and Circle lines); Piccadilly (Piccadilly and Bakerloo lines); Northern and Piccadilly lines); Charing Cross (North and Bakerloo lines); and Leicester Square (North and Piccadilly lines).
- By train: The nearest train station is Charing Cross. Visit www.nationalrail.co.uk for more information on links to London from around the country.
- With the bus: The gallery’s central location means it is particularly well served by numerous bus routes.
- By bike: Numerous bicycle parking facilities are located in the area.
- Per boot: The nearest boarding point for ferries and tour boats is Embankment Pier.
- On the road: The National Gallery’s location in the heart of London’s busy tourist and business district means driving is not for the faint of heart. It is best to park on the outskirts of the city (or a remote train station) and take the train or metro.
- parking: There is a variety of public parking spaces nearby.
- Daily, 10am – 6pm; Fri, 10am-9pm
- The National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, Londen WC2N 5DN
The National Gallery’s central location makes it easy to see some of London’s other major attractions. Among those who are close are Trafalgar Square, Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament, St Paul’s Cathedral and Buckingham Palace. And, of course, right next door is the National Portrait Gallery. Across the River Thames, there is the huge London Eye with its incredible view of London, the shear – the tallest building in the city with the highest viewing platform in the country – and the vibrant South Bank arts and entertainment complex.