London's greatest display of European art
The National Gallery is one of the great art galleries of Europe. Think of it as the ultimate Instagram account of the past. Let our guide explain the story and the coded messages within the pictures.
The 2,300 or so works represent all schools of art from the 13th to the 20th Century. See paintings by; Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt, Titian, Michelangelo, Constable, Turner, Van Gogh, Monet and many more. The gallery is a work of art in its self. It shows off the paintings beautifully, which are superbly maintained and organised.
Book a specialist tour guide and immerse yourself in the changing story of art and what it means to us today. Our Tour-Designers can customise our suggested Art an Cultural Tour of London.
The finest collection of European art
Introduction to The National Gallery
Parliament buys 38 paintings
In 1824, Parliament agreed to the purchase of a collection of 38 paintings giving rise to a first national gallery. The estate of John Angerstein, Lloyd's underwriter and investor in fine art sold the art for £60,000. The government first displayed the collection at Angerstein's grand house on Pall Mall, now occupied by the Reform Club - a building incidentally designed by Sir Charles Barry, the architect of Houses of Parliament and Highclere Castle.
The government decided that Trafalgar Square central location, allowing the rich from the west and the poor from the east to converge. The world-class collection of European art was to be accessible to all classes. The National Gallery is certainly inclusive today as the entrance is free, as with most museums in London.
There are five wings or sections to the National Gallery which are arranged by date.
The Sainsbury wing represents the middle ages from 1200 to 1500. For example, you will see works by Bellini (1430-1516) van Eyck (1390-1441) Leonardo (1452-1519) Raphael (1483-1520) and more.
The West wing represents the renaissance work from 1500-1600. For example, you will see art by Titian (1490-1576) Holbein (1497-1543) Bronzino (1503-1572) and more.
The North wing represents the 17th century from 1600-1700. For example, you will see the famous pictures by Vermeer (1632-1675) Velazquez (1599-1660) Caravaggio (1571-1610) van Dyck (1599-1641) and more.
The East wing represents the period from 1700-1930. For example, you will see paintings by Turner (1775-1851) Stubbs (1724-1806) Monet (1840-1926) van Gogh (1853-1890) Seurat (1859-1891) and more.
The remaining space at the gallery is reserved for payable exhibitions.
There are so many greatly admired works of art at the gallery, making it difficult to choose a few highlights. Here are some of our favourites.
The Fighting Temeraire by JMW Turner (1775-1851) – See picture below.
JMW Turner is Britain's most famous and surely best historical artist. A child prodigy, exhibiting his first work of art at the Royal Academy 15 years of age. He became famous during his own life, and he was probably 64 when he painted this work. He was a master of representing sunlight and marine scenes.
The ship in the painting is famous for playing an integral role at the battle of Trafalgar in 1805, a true hero ship. Trafalgar is a pivotal naval engagement when the Royal Navy defeats the French and Spanish fleets. The sad war hero ship, The Temeraire is taken to its final resting place to be broken up for scrap.
Bacchus and Ariadne by Titian Vecellio (1490-1576) – See picture below.
The Italian Titian is well known as a brute, a drinking street fighter and remarkable artist of the highest order. He could paint, landscapes, still life, religious and mythological subjects and he is therefore regarded as the most important artist of the Venetian school of the 16th century.
In the painting, Ariadne in the mythological tales helps Theseus defeat the minotaur. Still, then he abandons her on the island of Naxos. He disappears off in his ship in the corner of the picture. At the moment of grief, Bacchus appears suddenly to cheer her up and brings with an entire entourage of party people. The god of wine and Ariadne immediately fall in love.
The lavish colour scheme and the detail and design of the painting are stunning, and you must see the picture in the flesh.
The Ambassadors by Hans Holbein the Younger (1497-1543) – See picture below.
Holbein is one of the great portrait painters of his time. He visited the English Tudor court on two occasions, and this painting is of two French diplomats visiting the Tudor court. The character on the left is Jean de Dinteville. A man of noble lineage, the globe on the table shows his home town of Polisy in France. The other man is Georges de Selve, a scholar and bishop of Lavaur; his attire is rather more sombre. The collection of artefacts around them testifies that they are both men of the modern world, the technology of the 16th century.
Both seem vain, but the contorted skull below them reminds them of their mortality. When viewed from the side, the contortion is reversed, revealing a head in proportion. The painting is special because it is a rare double full-length portrait and because of the clever optical illusion.
Touring and accommodation
Staying in St James, Mayfair, or Covent Garden will give you easy access to the National Gallery and theatreland. There is a huge choice of places to stay, and we can help make those arrangements and give you options. London has many hotel options, including more five-star places to stay than any other city on earth. Where do you start? Please take a look at our recommended hotel list; the Best 4-star and 5-star accommodation in London.
Our Art and Cultural Tour of London will allow enough time for a highlights tour of the British Museum, Tate Britain and the National Gallery in one day with a stop for lunch. If you have a specific interest, please let us know, and we can provide a specialist guide and plan your tours and arrange any VIP access that may be required.
Our Tour Designers are here to customise your private tours of London and day tours from London. Tell us about you and your interests, and we will create a tailor-made tour. Our Old City of London tour features St Paul's Cathedral. However, we can tailor a tour of London for you.
If this is your first time to England, we would recommend a custom version of your Town and Country Tour; it covers the famous places and allows you to utilise your private driver-guide by getting-off-the-beaten-path. Our Classic tour of Ireland is a good place to start for the first trip to Ireland, and we suggest the Classic tour of Scotland for your first trip to the bonny Highlands. Merging Wales with England makes for a dynamic experience of mountains, stately homes and cosy country pubs.
In London's Top Three
One of the Great Galleries of Europe
- VIP Tours Available
- 2,300 Paintings from 13th to 20th Century
- Titian, Rembrandt, van Gogh, Monet and more
- Excellent Restaurant and Cafe
- National Portrait Gallery next door
The National Gallery exterior at night
The Fighting Temeraire by Turner
Fountains in front of The National Gallery
Bathers at Asnieres by Georges Seurat
National Gallery Facade
The Rokeby Venus by Diego Velazquez
The Ambassadors by Hans Holbein the younger
Bacchus and Ariadne by Titian
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