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National Gallery

  • Art
  • Trafalgar Square
  • price 0 of 4
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

Time Out says

5 out of 5 stars

First-class art for every class of art lover

Established in 1824 as a new art collection for the enjoyment and education of all, the National Gallery first consisted of 38 pictures, put on display at a house on Pall Mall while a purpose-built gallery was constructed. There are now over 2,300 works of art, from medieval classics to world-famous pieces by the French Impressionists. The new museum opened in 1838, located in Trafalgar Square because it was deemed to be at the heart of London – easy for rich people to visit from the west by carriage and also convenient for poor people coming by foot from east London.

Free to visit, the National Gallery is still as welcoming to all as it was back then. Anyone can swing by and gaze on Van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers’ for ten minutes on their way to work, or stay all day and admire JMW Turner’s Bequest or Cézanne’s ‘Bathers’.

The gallery has blockbuster exhibitions, music concerts and courses that do carry an entry charge, but most of the collection isn’t ticketed, and there are free talks each day, which you don’t need to book in advance. These take a closer look at a different painting or theme each time.

There are free sessions for families on Sundays and during school holidays, too. These give children aged five to 12 the chance to experience the grand gallery atmosphere whilst getting creative in drawing and art workshops designed for their level of interest. These are drop-in, but demand can be high, so you might have to wait for spaces unless you arrive early.

Written by
Laura Lee Davies


Trafalgar Square
Tube: Charing Cross
Free (permanent collection); admission charge applies for some temporary exhibitions
Opening hours:
Open daily 10am–6pm, Fridays 10am–9pm. Closed Jan 1, Dec 24–26.
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What’s on


  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Renaissance art

It’s best not to think about Raphael’s youth. He’d become one of the biggest artists of the Italian Renaissance by his twenties, the golden boy of the most important patron in Rome by his thirties, and had changed the shape of art for ever by the time he died just before reaching his forties. When I was in my twenties I got rejected from a job in a meat-packing factory. From the start, in this big, bold show of his art, design and architectural prowess, you can see that the Renaissance master knew who he was. His 1502 image of Saint Sebastian, made in central Italy when he was bloody 19, is terrifyingly self-assured. It’s beautifully composed and gorgeously painted, the fabrics are precise, the skin is luminescent. He was already so good. That didn’t go unnoticed. The commissions started coming thick and fast for young Raph: churchmen, bankers and merchants all wanted a slice. There are huge gleaming altarpieces on display, ultra-detailed biblical miniatures, intense portraits, a whole room of Madonnas and some of the ugliest babies in all of art. Raphael was everywhere. A whole room of madonnas and some of the ugliest babies in all of art. It wasn’t all pure God-given natural talent, he worked at it, studying his elders. There’s a little rough ink copy of Leonardo’s ‘Mona Lisa’, and next to it hangs Raphael’s ‘La Muta’, his breathtaking portrait of an incredibly fed-up brown-eyed woman. It’s an unfussy but hugely detailed painting, intimate but aloof, properly jawdropping.

The Credit Suisse Exhibition: Raphael

  • Painting

Every fibre of your being might be wanting to make a joke about the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but control yourself, because Raphael is so much more than a pizza slinging reptile vigilante. Raffaelo Santi (1483–1520) is a true giant of art history, a master of the Renaissance who had a massive hand in shaping the course of art. This show was originally meant to celebrate the 500th anniversary of his death in 2020, but was delayed and is now celebrating the 502nd anniversary of his death in late early 2022. It's not as satisfyingly round a number as 500, but any excuse to get to see loads of Raphael's paintings and drawings in one place is an event worth looking forward to.  The Credit Suisse Exhibition: Raphael is at the National Gallery, Apr 9-Jul 31 2022. More details here.

Picasso Ingres: Face to Face

  • 4 out of 5 stars

Two grotty old pervs paint saucy portraits of pretty young girls. That’s the bullet point summary of this tiny but lovely little exhibition. It features just two paintings: Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres’ 1856 masterpiece ‘Madame Moitessier’, and Pablo Picasso’s 1932 riff on it, ‘Woman With a Book’. Ingres was the great defender of neo-classical orthodoxy, a hugely influential but resolutely conservative master of nineteenth-century French art. Born 100 years later, Pablo Picasso was the opposite, a wild iconoclast, an innovator who destroyed traditions. One preserved, the other annihilated. But Picasso knew how to mine art history for inspiration, and in Ingres’ portrait, he found a nugget of gold. The 23-year-old woman in Ingres’ work absolutely flows. Just look at her hand, all elongated like its made of five swans’ necks, or her dress which undulates across the canvas, or her swooping limbs, her big, deep round eyes. Somehow, despite the angle, a mirror behind her catches her reflection in profile. It’s a stunning painting of soft skin and hard edges, full of opulent details, a heady celebration of beauty and Parisian luxury. Picasso replicates Madame Moitessier’s pose in his depiction of his young mistress Marie-Thérèse Walter (28 years junior to old Pablo…). The subtle details of Ingres are chucked out the window. The dress is now flat planes of block colour, the room is stark and minimal, the facial features boiled down to their barest essentials. The reflection in the

Lucian Freud: ‘New Perspectives’

The National Gallery is flirting dangerously with modern art in this sweeping celebration of twentieth century art superstar Lucian Freud. Featuring major works from throughout his career - everything from early works like 'Girl With Roses' through to famous later nude portraits – this is promising an in-depth, analytical look at one of our most famous artists.

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