Monday, September 23, 2013

London Guide: Free Art - The Nationals

I am currently doing a bit of work around Trafalgar Square that requires me to walk through this London tourist trap on an almost-daily basis.  While this has had some slight negatives (i.e. every working Londoner's nightmare is being surrounded by tourists when one is trying to get somewhere), it has provided some very nice opportunities to be in Trafalgar Square early in the morning and late in the evening, when everything seems calm - and this is a rare sight in this part of London.

(An Instagram snap at 7:30am on the way to work)

I am also presently studying for the Life in the UK test as part of my settlement visa application (a whole other bag of worms).  The test contains a LOT of British history and British art (dawn of time to present day), which I've actually really enjoyed learning.

Both of these things (while giving you a glimpse into my terribly boring incredibly exciting life) have reminded me of two of my favourite places to visit in London - which are completely FREE - the National Gallery (pictured above) and the National Portrait Gallery.

The National Gallery, with its grand facade facing the Square, is home to masterpieces that everyone is familiar with - and some which I was stunned to see in person for the first time (and every time after that, really) - with famous pieces by Manet, Monet, van Gogh, da Vinci, Raphael, Rembrandt and Degas. 

The collection also holds pieces that are really significant but that I hadn't been familiar with until I took a "Masterpieces in London" class during my semester abroad with Syracuse.  Pieces like Titian's Bacchus and Ariadne, Seurat's Bathers, van Eyck's The Arnolfini Portrait and Botticelli's Venus and Mars have become favourites of mine that I return to every time that I visit the Gallery.

The National Gallery is a place you can spend hours on a rainy afternoon and really lose yourself. I would recommend walking around with the audio guide.  After taking a class on some of the pieces in the museum, I am grateful for a deeper understanding of the story behind the paintings and the allegory and symbolism within.

The National Portrait Gallery, located just around the corner on St Martin's Place, contains a collection of portraits of historically and culturally important people (chiefly Brittons). The paintings and photographs here, unlike most galleries, are chosen for the importance of the subject, not the artist.

 Many of the portraits are unfamiliar, but a quick read of the accompanying panel becomes an engaging history lesson. Some of the portraits ate very familiar - the famous depictions of Elizabeth I, Henry VIII, Shakespeare and Kate Moss, Cecil Beaton's photographs of Queen Elizabeth II, portraits of the Windsors as children, and the recent first official portrait of the Duchess of Cambridge.

The exhibitions at the National Portrait Gallery are often fantastic and usually engage a more current subject or interest. Past exhibitions have included Lucien Freud portraits, Hollywood portrait photographs, Beatles to
Bowie: the 60s Exposed, Vanity Fair portraits and Pop Art portraits.

So if you find yourself in London with a bit of time to spare or it's rainy or you just want to spend some time with aome art, I highly recommend the Nationals. 

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