The National Gallery houses one of the most important and diverse collections of paintings in the world, with over 2,300 works from some of the greatest artists to have lived.
- ‘The Virgin on the Rocks’ by Leonardo da Vinci, one of the artists most famed works.
- Admire the beautiful depiction of the gods in ‘Mars and Venus’ by Botticelli.
- Be transported back to Tudor times when viewing Hans Holbein’s masterpiece ‘The Ambassadors’.
What to See and Do
The galleries are arranged by date and are colour coded on floor plans to make locating time periods easier for visitors. The permanent galleries are located on level 2 and contain some of the most important artwork available to view by the public in the world. Here you are treated to works by such famous artists as Claude Monet, Johannes Vermeer, Titian, Thomas Gainsborough, Anthony Van Dyck, Leonardo da Vinci and many more.
The Sainsbury Wing
The Sainsbury Wing was built in 1991 as an extension of the National Gallery and houses the collection of early Renaissance art. This post-modern extension has a more intimate feeling compared to other areas of the gallery, fitting in with the smaller scale of many of the paintings on display here. In this wing of the gallery, you will find the earliest paintings in the gallery’s collection, with artworks dating between 1200 to 1500.
The Wohl Room is a spectacular room with green damask walls and a glass roof. It houses the National Gallery’s collection of gold-framed Venetian paintings and bridges the main building to the Sainsbury Wing. This is the largest event space within the gallery and can hold receptions of up to 450 guests beneath the artwork of the Venetian masters.
Exhibitions and Events
As well as all the galleries full of incredible artworks, the National Gallery also stages numerous exhibitions and events through the course of the year. These allow visitors the chance to explore artists and paintings further and can be immersive too. A previous exhibition entitled Leonardo, Experience a Masterpiece, was set up over four rooms and took you through a studio, a chapel and a light and shadow experiment to further your understanding of his work.
The National Gallery encourages families with children of all ages to visit. There is a learning and education centre with family activities, plus creative sessions to help get the artistic juices flowing. These include drawing and studio workshops, plus storytelling for the younger ones. With family-oriented tours and trails to follow, the family can enjoy a fun day out at the National Gallery.
Did You Know: (5 interesting facts!)
- Now home to hundreds of paintings, the National Gallery began its existence with just 38. The British government needed somewhere to house them having bought this first collection from the estate of London businessman John Julius Angerstein at a cost of £57,000.
- The National Gallery used to be the home to the Royal Society of Arts before it moved to Burlington House. The gallery has always had the promotion and learning of art at its core, which continues today.
- As war loomed in 1938 the gallery sent paintings to Wales for protection, but they were returned when the ultimately ill-fated Munich accord was signed. The paintings were sent away again just prior to war being declared in 1939.
- In March 1914 suffragette Mary Richardson managed to smuggle a meat cleaver into the National Gallery. She slashed the Velasquez masterpiece ‘Rokeby Venus’ seven times and was jailed the maximum 6 months for the incident.
- The National Gallery is also home to a number of superb sculptures, one of these being of George Washington, the first American President. The statue can be found outside the gallery and was a gift in 1921 from the Commonwealth of Virginia.
- April 1824 British Government buys 38 paintings from Angerstein estate and displays them at his home in Pall Mall.
- 1838 New National Gallery building in Trafalgar Square opened to the public.
- 1855 Reform of gallery administration following public criticism, with new post of Director created.
- 1871 77 paintings, largely Dutch and Flemish works, bought from the late Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel’s collection.
- 1876 Completion of new wing including the impressive dome, providing 7 more rooms.
- March 1914 The Velasquez painting ‘Rokeby Venus’ damaged by suffragette Mary Richardson.
- 1939-46 Concerts held at National Gallery to boost public morale, an idea instigated by pianist Myra Hess.
- 1991 Sainsbury Wing opened having been constructed on a site next to the gallery vacant since the second world war.
Facilities and Accessibility
The National Gallery has a number of level access entrances, the main one being via the Sainsbury Wing. All these entrances are located near to lifts. Metal detectors and bag inspections are in operation for security reasons.
There are a range of audio guides and free tours to enhance your visit as well as an app so you can receive information about paintings on your smartphone. Audio tours are also available, as are British Sign Language multimedia tours and talks. Audio guides are produced for exhibitions, plus hearing loops for events such as talks or films.
There are a range of options for refreshments at the National Gallery. The National Dining Rooms provide great views over Trafalgar Square, while the National Café offers all-day dining. For a coffee and a slice of cake, the National Espresso bar fits the bill. There are also three shops to visit around the gallery. The Sainsbury Wing shop is the largest with a selection of gifts and specialist art books. More souvenirs and National Gallery gifts can be found at the Portico shop, while the Getty shop offers more of the gallery’s best sellers.