Established in 1824, the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square, Central London is among the capital’s most prominent landmarks and it is home to one of the world’s most impressive and extensive collections of paintings (over 2,300) in the Western European tradition from the thirteenth to the nineteenth centuries. The museum is free of charge and is open to the public 361 days a year.
The National Gallery came into life when the British Government, forced by King George IV, bought the valuable collection of 34 paintings belonging to the recently deceased prosperous Russian banker and art collector John Julius Angerstein. Given the fact that there was no suitable space available for the collection to be shown to the public, Angerstein’s former residence in Pall Mall housed the paintings.
The place was small and frequently got muggy and overcrowded. At that stage, there was no way it could be compared to the impressive art museums in Italy and France such as the world-known Louvre in Paris, the Vatican museums in Rome or the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. However, over the years the collection continued to expand and in 1838 it moved to its current location in Trafalgar Square. It is now easily one of the most prestigious collections in Europe and represents all major traditions of Western European painting, from the artists of late medieval and Renaissance Italy to the French Impressionists.
The building that is now the home of the National Gallery is a neoclassical one. It was designed by the English architect William Wilkins and received harsh criticism throughout the years for the “weaknesses” of its design and for its lack of space. Trafalgar Square was yet to be developed from the area where the museum was built. The location was chosen due to its position between the well-off West End and the poorer areas to the east, meaning it could be visited by people of whatever social status.
This argument surpassed concerns such as the pollution of Central London and Wilkins’ design. In 1876, the museum was broadened with a new east wing. Easily the most substantial addition to the building lately, the Sainsbury Wing built in 1991 by the postmodernist architects Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown was added to the west of the main building of the National Gallery in the so-called “Hampton’s Site”. It is now the location of the museum’s main entrance.
Notable attractions in London you can visit after National Gallery:
- Big Ben
- Hyde Park
- London Eye
- Tower of London
- Tower Bridge
- Westminster Abbey
- St Paul’s Cathedral
- Buckingham Palace
- British Museum
The magnificent paintings from the collection are lined up more or less chronologically. In the Sainsbury Wing (to the west) one can marvel at the oldest paintings the Gallery offers, such as works by Jan van Eyck and Giotto as well as Late Renaissance works from the renowned Michelangelo and Titian. In the North wing are featured seventeenth-century paintings from Flanders, Spain, the Netherlands and of course Italy and one can observe the expert skill of painters such as Rubens, Rembrandt and Caravaggio.
If one wishes to examine the works of art from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, they should visit the Gallery’s east wing where on display are impressionist and post-impressionist paintings from world-celebrated artists like Vincent van Gogh and Renoir.