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National Portrait Gallery (London)
Member Name: robkingston
National Portrait Gallery (London)
Date: 14/11/01, updated on 14/11/01 (99 review reads)
Advantages: Just the right size, a great variety of styles in a small space, free!
Disadvantages: I found the earlier works a little samey
Now, I would hate for you to get the idea that I am a philistine - I appreciate a decent painting as much as the next man - but I must confess that given the choice between an afternoon in the pub and a trip to one of the West End's galleries, I tend to go for Guinness rather than Gauguin.
Thus it was that, more than two years after moving to London, I had yet to visit the National Portrait Gallery. I'd love to say that I had a sudden desire for self-improvement but, as is so often the case, it was all down to a woman; more specifically, my newly acquired art-student girlfriend. "Accompany you to the NPG this weekend, ma chere? I'd love to..."
And do you know what? I loved it. Not even the tail end of a Friday-night hangover could dampen my enthusiasm. OK, the endless portraits of Tudor and Elizabethan minor royals on the top floor didn't exactly set my heart racing - although I did love the anamorphic painting technique, in which an elongated, abstract-looking image is revealed as a perfectly proportioned portrait when you look from an oblique angle to one side of the frame. The real interest, though, is on the lower floors, especially the works from the 1960s onwards.
Here you will find everything from video installations (such as a fantastic, constantly changing portrait of the pharmacologist Susan Greenfield) to political cartoon caricatures. Among my favourite works were David Mach's giant collage depicting Richard Branson, made from hundreds of tiny slivers of postcard, which really conveys the energy of this tycoon (love him or hate him), and Julian Opie's famous quartet of portraits of the members of Blur, as used on the cover of their "Best of" compilation. Its amazing how few lines are needed to define a recognisable face (if you can draw, of course!). Also look out for a giant sculpture of a head, carved from wood and then sandblasted. The texture is amazing - with grains of sand still
embedded and sparkling, I was studying it for ages trying to work out if it was made of wood or sandstone (until my girlfriend pointed out the label, the smartarse). Unfortunately I can't remember who it was of or by - sorry!
It's not a huge gallery - which is a good thing, as you don't end up with art fatigue. It's just enough for a nice couple of hours of culture before popping out for a pint and a bite of something spicy in the West End. And it's free to get in - what more do you want? Don't leave it as long as I did before checking it out!
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