England ranks alongside Italy and France among the world’s most popular spots to experience the best in art. An abundance of galleries and museums showcase traditional and contemporary works to suit a variety of personal tastes and styles. One of the most renowned (and most visited) is The National Gallery, located on Trafalgar Square in central London.
If you’ve never visited this special space, the first sight of its classical appearance will give a hint of the splendours inside. Built in 1824, the gallery houses a collection of over 2,300 paintings dating from the mid-13th century to the 1900s and features iconic pieces from artists such as da Vinci, Picasso, and van Eyck. The main collection is free of charge for visitors, while other exclusive exhibitions are temporarily available to ticket holders.
If you’re planning a trip, be sure to stop by these must-see pieces in the main collection. And if you’re prepared to spend some money to visit the excellent temporary exhibitions, read on to find out what’s on show in the months ahead.
On the next few pages we look at 5 of the best pieces of art in the main collection.
Top 5 Pieces in the National Gallery, Main Collection
1. The Madonna of the Rocks
About 1491/2-9 and 1506-8, Leonardo da Vinci
This beautiful piece is one of da Vinci’s greatest art works and can be found in room 20. It’s composed of oil paint on poplar and was painted by da Vinci around 1491, with the finishing touches made during 1508. Its intricate detail gives this painting a significant presence that is even more astounding in person.
Lovers of Dan Brown’s global bestseller The Da Vinci Code will also have fun deconstructing its hidden messages – the author claimed the painting was a secret allegory of Da Vinci’s contempt for the Catholic Church.
1888, Vincent van Gogh
One of Van Gogh’s most popular works, this is one of four paintings of sunflowers he painted during August and September 1888. Thick textural paint and brushstrokes give a surreal feel and three-dimensional appearance to the charming sunflowers. This is one of Van Gogh’s most popular paintings and a must-see for visitors to The National Gallery.
3. Portrait of Greta Moll
1908, Henri Matisse
Matisse was known for his bold use of colour and techniques and the character and personality inherent in his work. The Portrait of Greta Moll is an exemplar of his unique and daring style, with its heightened perspective of shape and figure and the curvaceous quality of the female form, while still respecting realistic representation. Its subject is Margareta Moll, who was born in 1884 and was herself an artist and a pupil of Matisse.
4. Portrait of Hermine Gallia
1904, Gustav Klimt
There’s something mesmerising about Klimt’s work – perhaps it’s the delicate application of vivid colour and tone, or the female figures which make up much of his artistic portfolio. This painting is of Hermine Gallia, née Hamburger, who wears a dress designed by Klimt.
5. Self Portrait at the Age of 34
Rembrandt was a Dutch painter, printmaker and draughtsman, now considered one of the greatest in the history of art. He was inspired by the Italian masters and Netherlandish artists who studied in Italy, and adopted their techniques and styles. Although his paintings ranged in subject matter, Rembrandt took a great interest in portraits – this self-portrait was one of around a hundred he produced, and was painted at the height of his career.
Top 5 Exhibitions
Keep an eye out for these five exciting events taking place at The National Gallery this year and next.
1. Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael around 1500
Any show featuring these three revolutionary artists and craftsmen can’t be missed. The National Gallery has put together a one-of-a-kind exhibition including the only marble sculpture by Michelangelo in the UK, the ‘Taddei Tondo’. This circular composition was executed with only a point and claw chisel and offers a perfect demonstration of Michelangelo’s carving technique.
This extraordinary exhibition is showing until 28 January 2018 in Room 20.
2. Drawn in Colour: Degas from the Burrell
This exhibition will showcase a stunning and rare collection of leading French impressionist Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas’s greatest works. Degas was renowned for his exquisite ballerina paintings, both delicate and full of life, and this exhibition includes some rare treats: twenty pastel drawings that haven’t been shown outside Scotland since their acquisition.
Drawn in Colour: Degas from the Burrell commences on 20 September 2017 and concludes on 7 May 2018.
3. Monochrome: Painting in Black and White
This unique exhibition will feature black and white paintings ranging from religious works to contemporary pieces inspired by printmaking, photography, and film. Denying themselves the bold colour that can readily communicate emotion or notions, the artists featured here have taken a risk – and the results are fascinating.
The exhibition will comprise works on glass, ceramic, silk, wood, and canvas by masters such as Rembrandt and Picasso, and more modern works by others including Gerhard Richter.
Monochrome: Painting in Black and White commences on 30 October 2017 and concludes on 18 February 2018.
4. Reflections: Van Eyck and the Pre-Raphaelites
This exhibition focuses on van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait, which made waves in the art world and inspired the Pre-Raphaelites to create a radical new style of painting. It was acquired by the National Gallery in 1842, and this exhibition is the first time it will be shown alongside other works from the Tate Collection and loans from other museums.
Reflections: Van Eyck and the Pre-Raphaelites begins on 2 October 2017 and runs until 2 April 2018.
5. Lake Keitele: A Vision of Finland
Akseli Gallen-Kallela was a Swedish-speaking Finnish painter who was inspired by the beauty of the picturesque Finnish landscape. He returned to Lake Keitele, north of Helsinki, throughout his artistic career and created a stunning set of paintings, on show for the first time in the UK. Also featured are other of Gallen-Kallela’s works, a fitting tribute to his impact on Nordic art.
Lake Keitele: A Vision of Finland begins on 15 November 2017 and concludes on 4 February 2018.