My trip to London last week, after an absence of twenty years, gave me the chance to look around four of the best art galleries anywhere in the world. The National, Tate Modern, Tate Britain and The National Portrait Gallery.
There are a number of noteable places where you can see art while in London, but these are the big hitters. The four house some of the most iconic images produced over the last thousand years.
The National Gallery
The National Gallery in Trafalga Square is the jewel in London’s art crown. There are over 2,300 masterpieces to view for free. As he lived on my doorstep, in Italy, the highlight of the trip for me was the chance to gaze over Piero della Francesca’s “Baptism of Christ”. Other classics include Jan van Eyck’s portrait of the Arnolfini Family, “The Battle of San Romano” by Uccello and “Venus and Mars” by Botticelli.
British artists are not forgotten here and JMW Turner’s “The Fighting Temeraire”, Constable’s “Hay Wain” and John Stubb’s leggy horses are all on show. Monet, Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Michelangelo, Raphael and Gainsborough, the list goes on and on. Whatever painter or period you love, The National is likely to have an example of their work.
The Gothic, temple-like structure of Bankside’s old power station houses the best in contemporary art. Regular changes in exhibitions mean that there is a constant surprise to anyone who visits the gallery. The Surrealists were well represented at the Modern, with “Metamorphosis of Narcissus” and “Autumnal Canabalism” by Salvador Dali being popular with visitors.
The works of Picasso, de Chirico, Man Ray, Kandinsky and Braque were all on show. My favourite was the marvellous collection of etchings by Alexander Brodsky showing his impossiblly futuristic townscapes.
The halls of Tate Britain contain an excellent selection of works from the 1500s until the present day. Covering all schools, periods and styles it is a fabulous gathering of free to view classics. Recent discussions with a friend led me to the Pre-Raphaelite room and I was not disappointed, works by Rossetti, Millais, Waterhouse and Hunt gave me plenty to marvel at.
There were also some lovely pieces by Hockney, especially the large painting of Mr & Mrs Clark and Percy, as well as Francis Bacon’s haunting use of colour. My converstaions over death, addiction and suicide amongst artists gave particular poinance to Rosetti’s palid “Beata Beatrix” and Millais’ mournful “Ophillia”.
The sala of Tate Britain also had a wonderful group of JWM Turner’s works and it is here that his sketch books, with prior arrangement, can be viewed. The dark recesses of Clore Gallery on the upper floor are a group of William Blake’s mysterious paintings.
The National Portrait Gallery
Around the corner from the National, you’ll find The Portrait Gallery, a who’s who from down the ages. There are the stylised paintings of old kings and queens, plus contemporary depictions of pop and sportstars, politicians and union leaders and the imfamous captured by the famous. Over the last 150 years or more the National Portrait Gallery has been the custodian of the nations family album and it’s archives provide an in insight into the changing face of celebrity.
It was fascinating to see the much used portrait of King Richard III on the day he was reburied in Leicester. The picture, painted in the late 16th century by an unknown artist, has become the familiar image of the last king of the house of York. There is also the impressively large and strange satirical musings of Gilbert and George.
Other London Art Galleries
The four art galleries are within easy reach of each other and contain enough culture to keep you entertained for a week. Luckily the “Keep Art Available” attitude in Britain means all of these places are free to enter, with charges only levied for specific guest exhibitions.
Alongside the big galleries, London has excellent exhibitions in the Whitechaple Gallery, with such luminaries as Frida Kahlo, Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko. The Serpentine Gallery in the centre of Hyde Park and the unique Marianne North Gallery at Kew Gardens. The Barbican and Hayward galleries put on significant shows throughout the year and the Saachi Museum of Contemporary Art profiles many of the world’s young artists. There is more to be found in the Royal Academy of Art and at Somerset House where a rich collection of Impressionist work can be found.
All in all London provides you with a great chance for viewing art and with generous photo opportunities, cafes and free access, they represent a fabulous way to see the works of some ot the world’s greatest painters and sculptors.