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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.

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

‘After Impressionism: Inventing Modern Art’

  • 4 out of 5 stars

Some old people tell the same stories over and over again. They probably don’t mean to, they’re just a bit forgetful. And the National Gallery seems to have forgotten that the story of the Eurocentric birth of modernism has been told countless times. It’s the most written-about period of art history ever. The narrative of how Monet led to Cezanne who led to Van Gogh who led to Picasso is as overexposed, over-explored and over-baked as it’s possible for art to be.  So what could the National Gallery possibly have to tell you about European art from 1890 onwards that hasn’t already been written about and shown to death? Well, the answer is absolutely nothing. This is an exhibition filled with familiar big hits by familiar big names. Cezanne, Gauguin, Van Gogh, Seurat, Toulouse-Lautrec and Bonnard are all here, so are Klimt and Matisse and Picasso. You know these artists; you know how they shaped modern art, hell, you probably even know all of these paintings. This show has no reason to exist. It’s boring, uninventive, tired, safe and unnecessary. But, goddamn it, it’s beautiful. You want to be cynical, but then you walk in and see Cezanne’s mountain, Van Gogh’s snowfield, Signac’s shimmering pine and Gauguin’s tumbling sea and you get all tongue-tied like you’ve just bumped into your crush who is way, way, way out of your league. You just fall in love despite your cynicism, despite yourself.  So I guess we have to go over this again. The Impressionists – a group of French artis

‘Saint Francis of Assisi’

  • 4 out of 5 stars

Saint Francis of Assisi, by all accounts, was a pretty good guy. He gave up wealth and luxury for pious poverty in order to better serve God. He cared for his fellow man, nature and animals, and in his tattered robes he founded the Franciscan brotherhood. Combine all that with trying to convert the Sultan of Egypt to Christinanity, performing various miracles and then being whacked with a stigmata and you’ve got the makings of a top-notch saint.  And following his canonisation in 1228 (when he was made into a saint, not a big gun) he became an inspiration to not just everyday Christians but countless artists too. Sadly, this show opens with the worst of them. An Antony Gormely sculpture, a cast of the artist’s own body, greets you as you walk in, its arms splayed showing the stigmata. I’m sure showing yourself as a saint touched by the mark of Christ is exactly the kind of humility Francis would have been into. Fortunately, just behind Gorms is Francisco de Zurbaran’s deeply tenebrous image of Saint Francis kneeling in ecstatic meditation. His clothes are ripped rags, his mouth is agape with wonder. It’s sombre and beautiful.  What you’re watching unfurl in this show is the birth of a myth. Saint Francis’s life is told first through seven gleaming panels from Sassetta’s 1437 altarpiece for San Francesco in Sansepolcro. He starts by giving his clothes to a poor knight, then, standing nude in a world of shimmering pink, he renounces his own father in favour of god. He braves fl

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