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A National treasure
National Gallery (London)
Member Name: Ariel_uk
National Gallery (London)
Date: 14/08/01, updated on 14/08/01 (30 review reads)
Advantages: Fantastic collection, central location, free entry
Disadvantages: Too much to see in one visit, Shop can expensive
The National Gallery in Trafalgar Square in London is the UK’s national collection of pre 1900 European art, making a set with the Tate Britain (Pre 1900 UK art) and the Tate Modern (Post 1900 art). During the summer months a free Art Bus links the three galleries, making things even easier for the cultural traveler.
Even in this huge building, dominating one side of the square, they can only exhibit a fraction of their holdings at any one time, so have a changing lineup of special exhibitions. The main collection is free to view, as are some of the exhibitions, others, including the current Vermeer exhibition, are charged for. Vermeer is £6 for adults £4 for discounts (students, oap et) In a further bid to ensure it’s doors are open to all the museum is open late three nights a week, Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday until 9pm. Even the cloakrooms are free, so it’s easy to offload your bags and coats and dive in. I always donate a good handful of change on the way out, because I have always felt that the museum experience was well worth the money.
For a good chunk of last winter one of my friends and I met at the National Gallery most Wednesday evenings after work, for a wander around, stopping to stare at the pictures that took our fancy, and blithely ignoring those that didn’t catch our eye. And I remain convinced this is the way to void museum-fatigue – don’t let a sense of guilt force you to stand staring at something you really don’t enjoy. We shared the space with all nationalities of tourist, some diligent art students, sketching away, people with kids, elderly couples, the works. And in common with the British Museum, there is no oppressive atmosphere – everyone is considerate of others enjoyment, but there’s no demands for silence, or glares from specialists if you dare to put forward an opinion of your own. I guess because this is a national collection there is a real feeling that the
space belongs to *people* not just specialists or dealers, hence the warm atmosphere. Partly because it was free and out of the cold, but mainly because we kept finding more and more beautiful pictures to enjoy we kept coming back week after week.
The special exhibitions can be rather more intensive – for a start they tend to be more crowded, and the timed entry tickets means you feel a certain amount of pressure to keep moving along. Also because it is paid for, I tend to feel pretty much obliged to look at each painting in the order it’s presented, which isn’t always what I want to do – but then that’s my reaction. With the Vermeer exhibition they have done a great job not only of bringing together a number of great works from the Delft artists (I’m a big De Hooch fan, so this was a treat) but also to space them out so that the most popular works were spread around the rooms to avoid congestion. The National Galleries film unit’s ever repeating 15 minute ‘mini documentary’ was a good supplement to the exhibition, although I would have preferred to see it before rather than after.
I would like it if there was more information available in the galleries – the labeling is there, but fairly minimalist. They rent audio tours, so am driven to suspect that the minimal labeling is to encourage people to pay up more. But that is pretty much my only quibble. The shop is clearly aimed at People Not Like Me, although they do have some lovely things, at a steep price.(I’ll have the 17th Century style glasses, and winged t-shits, if anyone’s buying!) and the bookshop in the basement is an excellent resource.
This is a great collection, and a good gallery – yet another reason to be glad to be in London, and sometimes it’s good to be reminded of that.
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