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This article is about the National Gallery in London, for other National Galleries, see National Gallery.
The National Gallery
Established 1824
Location Trafalgar Square, London WC2, England, United Kingdom
Visitor figures 4-5 million people per year[1]
Director Nicholas Penny.
Public transit access Charing Cross 25 railtransportation.svg Bakerloo roundel1.PNG Northern roundel1.PNG
Embankment Bakerloo roundel1.PNG Circle roundel1.PNG District roundel1.PNG Northern roundel1.PNG (25 railtransportation.svg Charing Cross 100m)
Leicester Square Northern roundel1.PNG Piccadilly roundel1.PNG
Website The National Gallery

The National Gallery in London, founded in 1824, houses a rich collection of over 2,300 paintings dating from the mid-13th century to 1900[a] in its home on Trafalgar Square. The gallery is an exempt charity, and a non-departmental public body of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.[2] Its collection belongs to the public of the United Kingdom and entry to the main collection (though not some special exhibitions) is free of charge.

Unlike comparable art museums such as the Louvre in Paris or the Museo del Prado in Madrid, the National Gallery was not formed by nationalising an existing royal or princely art collection. It came into being when the British government bought 36 paintings from the banker John Julius Angerstein in 1824. After that initial purchase the Gallery was shaped mainly by its early directors, notably Sir Charles Lock Eastlake, and by private donations, which comprise two thirds of the collection.[3] The resulting collection is small in size, compared with many European national galleries, but encyclopaedic in scope; most major developments in Western painting "from Giotto to Cézanne"[4] are represented with important works. It used to be claimed that this was one of the few national galleries that had all its works on permanent exhibition,[5] but this is no longer the case.

The present building, the third to house the National Gallery, was designed by William Wilkins from 1832–8. Only the façade onto Trafalgar Square remains essentially unchanged from this time, as the building has been expanded piecemeal throughout its history. The building often came under fire for its perceived aesthetic deficiencies and lack of space; the latter problem led to the establishment of the Tate Gallery for British art in 1897. The Sainsbury Wing, an extension to the west by Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, is a notable example of Postmodernist architecture in Britain. The current Director of the National Gallery is Nicholas Penny.




The call for a National Gallery

The Raising of Lazarus by Sebastiano del Piombo, from the collection of John Julius Angerstein. This became the founding collection of the National Gallery in 1824. The painting has the accession number NG1, making it officially the first painting to enter the Gallery.

The late 18th century saw the nationalisation of royal or princely art collections across mainland Europe. The Bavarian royal collection (now in the Alte Pinakothek, Munich) opened to the public in 1779, that of the Medici in Florence around 1789 (as the Uffizi Gallery), and the Museum Français at the Louvre was formed out of the former French royal collection in 1793.[6] Great Britain, however, did not emulate the continental model, and the British Royal Collection remains in the sovereign's possession today. In 1777 the British government had the opportunity to buy an art collection of international stature, when the descendants of Sir Robert Walpole put his collection up for sale. The MP John Wilkes argued for the government to buy this "invaluable treasure" and suggested that it be housed in "a noble gallery... to be built in the spacious garden of the British Museum"[7] Nothing came of Wilkes's appeal and 20 years later the collection was bought in its entirety by Catherine the Great; it is now to be found in the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg.

A plan to acquire 150 paintings from the Orléans collection, which had been brought to London for sale in 1798, also failed, despite the interest of both the King and the Prime Minister, Pitt the Younger.[8] The twenty-five paintings from that collection now in the Gallery, including "NG1", have arrived by a variety of routes. In 1799 the dealer Noel Desenfans offered a ready-made national collection to the British government; he and his partner Sir Francis Bourgeois had assembled it for the king of Poland, before the Third Partition in 1795 abolished Polish independence.[6] This offer was declined and Bourgeois bequeathed the collection to his old school, Dulwich College, on his death. The collection opened in Britain's first purpose-built public gallery, the Dulwich Picture Gallery, in 1814. The Scottish dealer William Buchanan and another collector, Joseph Count Truchsess, both formed art collections expressly as the basis for a future national collection, but their respective offers (made in the same year, 1803) were also declined.[6]

Following the Walpole sale many artists, including James Barry and John Flaxman, had made renewed calls for the establishment of a National Gallery, arguing that a British school of painting could only flourish if it had access to the canon of European painting. The British Institution, founded in 1805 by a group of aristocratic connoisseurs, attempted to address this situation. The members lent works to exhibitions that changed annually, while an art school was held in the summer months. However, as the paintings that were lent were often mediocre,[9] some artists resented the Institution and saw it as a racket for the gentry to increase the sale prices of their Old Master paintings.[10] One of the Institution's founding members, Sir George Beaumont, Bt, would eventually play a major role in the National Gallery's foundation by offering a gift of 16 paintings.

In 1823 another major art collection came on the market, which had been assembled by the recently deceased John Julius Angerstein. Angerstein was a Russian-born émigré banker based in London; his collection numbered 38 paintings, including works by Raphael and Hogarth's Marriage à-la-mode series. On July 1, 1823 George Agar Ellis, a Whig politician, proposed to the House of Commons that it purchase the collection.[11] The appeal was given added impetus by Beaumont's offer, which came with two conditions: that the government buy Angerstein's collection, and that a suitable building was to be found. The unexpected repayment of a war debt by Austria finally moved the government to buy Angerstein's collection, for £57,000.

Foundation and early history

100 Pall Mall, the home of the National Gallery from 1824 to 1834.

The National Gallery opened to the public on 10 May 1824, housed in Angerstein's former townhouse on No. 100 Pall Mall. Angerstein's paintings were joined in 1826 by those from Beaumont's collection, and in 1828 by the Reverend William Holwell Carr's bequest of 34 paintings. Initially the Keeper of Paintings, William Seguier, bore the burden of managing the Gallery, but in July 1824 some of this responsibility fell to the newly formed board of trustees.

The National Gallery at Pall Mall was frequently overcrowded and hot and its diminutive size in comparison with the Louvre in Paris was the cause of national embarrassment. But Agar Ellis, now a trustee of the Gallery, appraised the site for being "in the very gangway of London"; this was seen as necessary for the Gallery to fulfil its social purpose.[12] Subsidence in No. 100 caused the Gallery to move briefly to No. 105 Pall Mall, which the novelist Anthony Trollope described as a "dingy, dull, narrow house, ill-adapted for the exhibition of the treasures it held".[12] This in turn had to be demolished for the opening of a road to Carlton House Terrace.[13]

In 1832 construction began on a new building by William Wilkins on the site of the King's Mews in Charing Cross, in an area that had been transformed over the 1820s into Trafalgar Square. The location was a significant one, between the wealthy West End and poorer areas to the east.[14] The argument that the collection could be accessed by people of all social classes outstripped other concerns, such as the pollution of central London or the failings of Wilkins's building, when the prospect of a move to South Kensington was mooted in the 1850s. According to the Parliamentary Commission of 1857, "The existence of the pictures is not the end purpose of the collection, but the means only to give the people an ennobling enjoyment".[15]

Growth under Eastlake and his successors

15th- and 16th-century Italian paintings were at the core of the National Gallery and for the first 30 years of its existence the Trustees' independent acquisitions were mainly limited to works by High Renaissance masters. Their conservative tastes resulted in several missed opportunities and the management of the Gallery later fell into complete disarray, with no acquisitions being made between 1847 and 1850.[16] A critical House of Commons Report in 1851 called for the appointment of a director, whose authority would surpass that of the trustees. Many thought the position would go to the German art historian Gustav Friedrich Waagen, whom the Gallery had consulted on previous occasions about the lighting and display of the collections. However, the man preferred for the job by Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and the Prime Minister, Lord Russell, was the Keeper of Paintings at the Gallery, Sir Charles Lock Eastlake.

The new director's taste was for the Northern and Early Italian Renaissance masters or "primitives", who had been neglected by the Gallery's acquisitions policy but were slowly gaining recognition from connoisseurs. Eastlake made annual tours to the continent and to Italy in particular, seeking out appropriate paintings to buy for the Gallery. In all, he bought 148 pictures abroad and 46 in Britain,[17] among the former such seminal works as Paolo Uccello's Battle of San Romano. Eastlake also amassed a private art collection during this period, consisting of paintings that he knew did not interest the trustees. His ultimate aim, however, was for them to enter the National Gallery; this was duly arranged upon his death by his friend and successor as director, William Boxall, and his widow Lady Eastlake.

The Gallery's lack of space remained acute in this period. In 1845 a large bequest of British paintings was made by Robert Vernon; there was insufficient room in the Wilkins building so these were displayed first in Vernon's townhouse, 50 Pall Mall, and then at Marlborough House.[18] The Gallery was even less well equipped for its next major bequest: over 1,000 works by J. M. W. Turner, which he had left to the nation on his death in 1856.[19] These were displayed off-site in South Kensington, where they were joined by the Vernon collection. This set a precedent for the display of British art on a different site, which eventually resulted in the creation of the National Gallery of British Art (the Tate Gallery) in 1897. Works by artists born after 1790 were moved to the new gallery on Millbank, which allowed Hogarth, Turner and Constable to remain in Trafalgar Square. Turner's request that his paintings be displayed alongside those of Claude is still honoured in Room 15 of the Gallery, but his bequest has never been adequately displayed in its entirety; today the works are divided between Trafalgar Square and the Clore Gallery, a small purpose-built extension to the Tate completed in 1985.

The third director, Sir Frederick William Burton, laid the foundations of the collection of 18th-century art and made several outstanding purchases from English private collections, including The Ambassadors by Hans Holbein the Younger.

The early 20th century

Venus at her Mirror (The Rokeby Venus) by Diego Velázquez.

The agricultural crisis at the turn of the 20th century caused many aristocratic families to sell their paintings, but the British national collections were priced out of the market by American plutocrats.[20] This prompted the foundation of the National Art Collections Fund, a society of subscribers dedicated to stemming the flow of artworks to the United States. Their first acquisition for the National Gallery was Velázquez's Rokeby Venus in 1906, followed by Holbein's Portrait of Christina of Denmark in 1909. However, despite the crisis in aristocratic fortunes, the following decade was one of several great bequests from private collectors. In 1909 the industrialist Dr Ludwig Mond gave 42 Italian renaissance paintings, including the Mond Crucifixion by Raphael, to the Gallery.[21] Other bequests of note were those of George Salting in 1910, Austen Henry Layard in 1916 and Sir Hugh Lane in 1917; the last of these was one of the Gallery's more controversial bequests. Lane died on board the RMS Lusitania in 1915, and an early version of his will left 39 paintings, including Renoir's Umbrellas, to the National Gallery unless a suitable building could be built in Dublin; later he amended it with a codicil that the works should only go to Ireland, but this was never witnessed.[22] A dispute began which was not resolved until 1959;[23] part of the collection is now on permanent loan to Dublin City Gallery ("The Hugh Lane") and other works rotate between London and Dublin every few years.

In a rare example of the political protest for which Trafalgar Square is famous occurring in the National Gallery, the Rokeby Venus was damaged on 10 March 1914 by Mary Richardson, a campaigner for women's suffrage, in protest against the arrest of Emmeline Pankhurst the previous day. Later that month another suffragette attacked five Bellinis, causing the Gallery to close until the start of the First World War, when the Women's Social and Political Union called for an end to violent acts drawing attention to their plight.[24]

During the 19th century the National Gallery contained no works by a contemporary artist, but this situation was belatedly amended by Sir Hugh Lane's bequest of Impressionist paintings in 1917. A fund for the purchase of modern paintings established by Samuel Courtauld in 1923 bought Seurat's Bathers at Asnières and other notable modern works for the nation;[25] in 1934 these transferred to the National Gallery from the Tate.

The Gallery in World War II

Shortly before the outbreak of World War II the paintings were evacuated to various locations in Wales, including Penrhyn Castle and the university colleges of Bangor and Aberystwyth.[26] In 1940, as the Battle of France raged, a more secure home was sought, and there were discussions about moving the paintings to Canada. This idea was firmly rejected by Winston Churchill, who wrote in a telegram to the director Kenneth Clark, “bury them in caves or in cellars, but not a picture shall leave these islands”.[27] Instead a slate quarry at Manod, near Blaenau Ffestiniog in North Wales, was requisitioned for the Gallery's use. In the seclusion afforded by the paintings' new location, the Keeper (and future director) Martin Davies began to compile scholarly catalogues on the collection, helped by the fact that the Gallery's library was also stored in the quarry. The move to Manod confirmed the importance of storing paintings at a constant temperature and humidity, something the Gallery's conservators had long suspected but had hitherto been unable to prove.[28] This eventually resulted in the first air-conditioned gallery opening in 1949.[18]

For the course of the war Myra Hess gave daily recitals in the empty building, to raise public morale at a time when every concert hall in London was closed.[29] Exhibitions of work by war artists, including Paul Nash, Henry Moore and Stanley Spencer, were held from 1940; the War Artists' Advisory Committee had been set up by Clark in order "to keep artists at work on any pretext".[30] In 1941 a request from an artist to see Rembrandt's Portrait of Margaretha de Geer (a new acquisition) resulted in the "Picture of the Month" scheme, in which a single painting was removed from Manod and exhibited to the general public in the National Gallery each month. The art critic Herbert Read, writing that year, called the National Gallery "a defiant outpost of culture right in the middle of a bombed and shattered metropolis".[31] The paintings returned to Trafalgar Square in 1945.

Post-war developments

Titian, Diana and Actaeon, bought in 2008, jointly with the National Gallery of Scotland

In the post-war years acquisitions have become increasingly difficult for the National Gallery as the prices for Old Masters – and even more so for the Impressionists and Post-impressionists – have risen beyond its means. Some of the Gallery's most remarkable purchases in this period would have been impossible without the major public appeals backing them, including The Virgin and Child with St. Anne and St. John the Baptist by Leonardo da Vinci (bought in 1962), Titian’s Death of Actaeon (1972). The Gallery's purchase grant from the government was frozen in 1985, but later that year it received an endowment of £50 million from Sir Paul Getty, enabling many major purchases to be made.[18] Ironically, the institution that posed the biggest threat to the Gallery's acquisitions policy was (and remains) the extremely well-endowed J. Paul Getty Museum in California, established by Getty's estranged father. Also in 1985 Lord Sainsbury of Preston Candover and his brothers, the Hon. Simon Sainsbury and Sir Timothy Sainsbury, made a donation that enabled the construction of the Sainsbury Wing.

The directorship of Neil MacGregor saw a major rehang at the Gallery, dispensing with the classification of paintings by national school that had been introduced by Eastlake. The new chronological hang sought to emphasise the interaction between cultures rather than fixed national characteristics, reflecting the change in art historical values since the 19th century. In other respects, however, Victorian tastes were rehabilitated: the building's interiors were no longer considered an embarrassment and were restored, and in 1999 the Gallery accepted a bequest of 26 Italian Baroque paintings from Sir Denis Mahon. Earlier in the 20th century many considered the Baroque to be beyond the pale: in 1945 the Gallery's trustees declined to buy a Guercino from Mahon's collection for £200. The same painting was valued at £4 m in 2003.[32] Mahon's bequest was made on the condition that the Gallery would never deaccession any of its paintings or charge for admission.[33]

The respective remits of the National and Tate Galleries, which had long been contested by the two institutions, were more clearly defined in 1996. 1900 was established as the cut-off point for paintings in the National Gallery, and in 1997 more than 60 post-1900 paintings from the collection were given to the Tate on a long-term loan, in return for works by Gauguin and others. However, future expansion of the National Gallery may yet see the return of 20th-century paintings to its walls.[34]

In the 21st century there have been two large fundraising campaigns at the Gallery: in 2004, to buy Raphael’s Madonna of the Pinks, and in 2008, for Titian's Diana and Actaeon. Diana and Actaeon was bought in tandem with the National Gallery of Scotland for £50 m. The two galleries will attempt to buy the pendant piece to the Titian, Diana and Callisto, from the collection of the Duke of Sutherland by 2012. The National Gallery is now largely priced out of the market for Old Master paintings and can only make such acquisitions with the backing of major public appeals; the departing director Charles Saumarez Smith expressed his frustration at this situation in 2007.[35]

The building

Floorplan of the National Gallery (piano nobile level only) as of 2009
The Barry Rooms, designed by E. M. Barry (1872–76)  
The Staircase Hall, designed by Sir John Taylor (1884–7)  
The Sainsbury Wing as seen from Trafalgar Square  

William Wilkins's building

The piano nobile and ground floor of Wilkins's building, before expansion. Note the passageways behind the east and west porticoes. Shaded areas were used by the Royal Academy until 1868.

The first suggestion for a National Gallery on Trafalgar Square came from John Nash, who envisaged it on the site of the King's Mews, while a Parthenon-like building for the Royal Academy would occupy the centre of the square.[36] Economic recession prevented this scheme from being built, but a competition for the Mews site was eventually held in 1831, for which Nash submitted a design with C. R. Cockerell as his co-architect. Nash's popularity was waning by this time, however, and the commission was awarded to William Wilkins, who was involved in the selection of the site and submitted some drawings at the last moment.[37] Wilkins had hoped to build a "Temple of the Arts, nurturing contemporary art through historical example",[38] but the commission was blighted by parsimony and compromise, and the resulting building was deemed a failure on almost all counts.

The site only allowed for the building to be one room deep, as a workhouse and a barracks lay immediately behind.[b] To exacerbate matters, there was a public right of way through the site to these buildings, which accounts for the access porticoes on the eastern and western sides of the façade. These had to incorporate columns from the demolished Carlton House and their relative shortness result in an elevation that was deemed excessively low, and a far cry from the commanding focal point that was desired for the northern end of the Square. Also recycled are the sculptures on the façade, originally intended for Nash's Marble Arch but abandoned due to his financial problems.[c] The eastern half of the building housed the Royal Academy until 1868, which further diminished the space afforded to the Gallery.

The building was the object of public ridicule before it had even been completed, as a version of the design had been leaked to the Literary Gazette in 1833.[39] Two years before completion, its infamous "pepperpot" elevation appeared on the frontispiece of Contrasts (1836), an influential tract by the Gothicist A. W. N. Pugin, as an example of the degeneracy of the classical style.[40] Even William IV thought the building a "nasty little pokey hole",[41] while William Makepeace Thackeray called it "a little gin shop of a building".[36] The twentieth-century architectural historian Sir John Summerson echoed these early criticisms when he compared the arrangement of a dome and two diminutive turrets on the roofline to "the clock and vases on a mantelpiece, only less useful".[37] Sir Charles Barry's landscaping of Trafalgar Square, from 1840, included a north terrace so that the building would appear to be raised, thus addressing one of the points of complaint.[13] Opinion on the building had mellowed considerably by 1984, when the Prince of Wales called the Wilkins facade a "much-loved and elegant friend", in contrast to a proposed extension. (See below)

Alteration and expansion (Pennethorne, Barry and Taylor)

External images
New gallery (1860–1) by Sir James Pennethorne

The first significant alteration made to the building was the single, long gallery added by Sir James Pennethorne in 1860-1. Ornately decorated in comparison with the rooms by Wilkins, it nonetheless worsened the cramped conditions inside the building as it was built over the original entrance hall.[42] Unsurprisingly, several attempts were made either to completely remodel the National Gallery (as suggested by Sir Charles Barry in 1853), or to move it to more capacious premises in Kensington, where the air was also cleaner. In 1867 Barry’s son Edward Middleton Barry proposed to replace the Wilkins building with a massive classical building with four domes. The scheme was a failure and contemporary critics denounced the exterior as "a strong plagiarism upon St Paul's Cathedral".[43]

With the demolition of the workhouse, however, Barry was able to build the Gallery's first sequence of grand architectural spaces, from 1872 to 1876. Built to a polychrome Neo-Renaissance design, the Barry Rooms were arranged on a Greek cross-plan around a huge central octagon. Though it compensated for the underwhelming architecture of the Wilkins building, Barry's new wing was disliked by Gallery staff, who considered its monumental aspect to be in conflict with its function as exhibition space. Also, the decorative programme of the rooms did not take their intended contents into account; the ceiling of the 15th- and 16th-century Italian gallery, for instance, was inscribed with the names of British artists of the 19th century.[44] But despite these failures, the Barry Rooms provided the Gallery with a strong axial groundplan. This was to be followed by all subsequent additions to the Gallery for a century, resulting in a building of clear symmetry.

Pennethorne's gallery was demolished for the next phase of building, a scheme by Sir John Taylor extending northwards of the main entrance. Its glass-domed entrance vestibule had painted ceiling decorations by the Crace family firm, who had also worked on the Barry Rooms. A fresco intended for the south wall was never realised, and that space is now taken up by Frederic, Lord Leighton’s painting of Cimabue's Celebrated Madonna carried in Procession through the Streets of Florence (1853–5), lent by the Royal Collection in the 1990s.[45]

The 20th century: modernisation versus restoration

Later additions to the west came more steadily but maintained the coherence of the building by mirroring Barry’s cross-axis plan to the east. The use of dark marble for doorcases was also continued, giving the extensions a degree of internal consistency with the older rooms. The classical style was still in use at the National Gallery in 1929, when a Beaux-Arts style gallery was built, funded by the art dealer and Trustee Lord Duveen. However, it was not long before the 20th-century reaction against Victorian attitudes became manifest at the Gallery. From 1928 to 1952 the landing floors of Taylor's entrance hall were relaid with a new series of mosaics by Boris Anrep, who was friendly with the Bloomsbury Group. His mosaics at the National Gallery can be read as a satire on 19th-century conventions for the decoration of public buildings,[46] typified by the elaborate Frieze of Parnassus on the Albert Memorial. The central mosaic depicting The Awakening of the Muses includes portraits of Virginia Woolf and Greta Garbo, subverting the high moral tone of its Victorian forebears. In place of Christianity's seven virtues,[47] Anrep offered his own set of Modern Virtues, including "Humour" and "Open Mind"; the allegorical figures are again portraits of his contemporaries, including Winston Churchill, Bertrand Russell and T. S. Eliot.

In the 20th century the Gallery's late Victorian interiors fell out of favour with many commentators.[48] The Crace ceiling decorations in the entrance hall were not to the taste of the director Charles Holmes, and were obliterated by white paint.[49] The North Galleries, which opened to the public in 1975, marked the arrival of modernist architecture at the National Gallery. In the older rooms, the original classical details were effaced by partitions, daises and suspended roofs, the aim being to create neutral settings that did not distract from contemplation of the paintings themselves. But the Gallery's commitment to modernism was sort-lived: by the 1980s Victorian style was no longer considered anathema, and a restoration programme began to restore the nineteenth and early 20th-century interiors to their purported original appearance. This began with the refurbishment of the Barry Rooms in 1985–86. From 1996 to 1999 even the North Galleries, by then considered to "lack a positive architectural character" were remodelled in a classical style, albeit a simplified one.[33]

The Sainsbury Wing and later additions

External images
Rejected "carbuncle" scheme by Ahrends, Burton and Koralek

The most important addition to the building in recent years has been the Sainsbury Wing, designed by the postmodernist architects Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown to house the collection of Renaissance paintings, and built in 1991. The building occupies the "Hampton's site" to the west of the main building, where a department store of the same name had stood until its destruction in the Blitz. The Gallery had long sought expansion into this space and in 1982 a competition was held to find a suitable architect; the shortlist included a radical high-tech proposal by Richard Rogers, among others. The design that won the most votes was by the firm Ahrends, Burton and Koralek, who then modified their proposal to include a tower, similar to that of the Rogers scheme. The proposal was dropped after the Prince of Wales compared the design to a "monstrous carbuncle on the face of a much-loved and elegant friend",[50] The term "monstrous carbuncle", for a modern building that clashes with its surroundings, has since become commonplace.[51][52]

One of the conditions of the 1982 competition was that the new wing had to include commercial offices as well as public gallery space. However, in 1985 it became possible to devote the extension entirely to the Gallery's uses, due to a donation of almost £50 million from Lord Sainsbury and his brothers Simon and Sir Tim Sainsbury. A closed competition was held, and the schemes produced were noticeably more restrained than in the earlier competition.

In contrast with the rich ornamentation of the main building, the galleries in the Sainsbury Wing are pared-down and intimate, to suit the smaller scale of many of the paintings. The main inspirations for these rooms are Sir John Soane's toplit galleries for the Dulwich Picture Gallery and the church interiors of Filippo Brunelleschi (the stone dressing is in pietra serena, the grey stone local to Florence). The northernmost galleries align with Barry's central axis, so that there is a single vista down the whole length of the Gallery. This axis is exaggerated by the use of false perspective, as the columns flanking each opening gradually diminish in size until the visitor reaches the focal point of (as of 2009), an altarpiece by Cima of The Incredulity of St Thomas. Venturi's postmodernist approach to architecture is in full evidence at the Sainsbury Wing, with its stylistic quotations from buildings as disparate as the clubhouses on Pall Mall, the Scala Regia in the Vatican, Victorian warehouses and Ancient Egyptian temples.

Following the pedestrianisation of Trafalgar Square, the Gallery is currently engaged in a masterplan to convert the vacated office space on the ground floor into public space. The plan will also fill in disused courtyards and make use of land acquired from the adjoining National Portrait Gallery in St Martin's Place, which it gave to the National Gallery in exchange for land for its 2000 extension. The first phase, the East Wing Project designed by Jeremy Dixon and Edward Jones, opened to the public in 2004. This provided a new ground level entrance from Trafalgar Square, named in honour of Sir Paul Getty. The main entrance was also refurbished, and reopened in September 2005. Possible future projects include a "West Wing Project" roughly symmetrical with the East Wing Project, which would provide a future ground level entrance, and the public opening of some small rooms at the far eastern end of the building acquired as part of the swap with the National Portrait Gallery. This might include a new public staircase in the bow on the eastern façade. No timetable has been announced for these additional projects.


The restoration of Titian's Bacchus and Ariadne from 1967 to 1968 was one of the most controversial ever undertaken at the National Gallery, due to fears that the painting's tonality had been thrown out of balance.[53]

One of the most persistent criticisms of the National Gallery, alongside the perceived inadequacies of the building, has been of its policy regarding the conservation of paintings. The Gallery's detractors accuse it of having an over-zealous approach to restoration and of turning a deaf ear to criticism. The first cleaning operation at the National Gallery began in 1844 after Eastlake's appointment as Keeper, and was the subject of attacks in the press after the first three paintings to receive the treatment – a Rubens, a Cuyp and a Velázquez – were unveiled to the public in 1846.[54] The Gallery's most virulent critic was J. Morris Moore, who wrote a series of letters to The Times under the pseudonym "Verax" savaging the institution's recent cleanings. While an 1853 Parliamentary Select Committee set up to investigate the matter cleared the Gallery of any wrongdoing, criticism of its methods has been erupting sporadically ever since from some in the art establishment.

The last major outcry against the use of radical conservation techniques at the National Gallery was in the immediate post-war years, following a restoration campaign by Chief Restorer Helmut Ruhemann while the paintings were in Manod Quarry. When the cleaned pictures were exhibited to the public in 1946 there followed a furore with parallels to that of a century earlier. The principal criticism was that the extensive removal of varnish, which was used in the 19th century to protect the surface of paintings but which darkened and discoloured them with time, may have resulted in the loss of "harmonising" glazes added to the paintings by the artists themselves. The opposition to Ruhemann's techniques was led by Ernst Gombrich, a professor at the Warburg Institute who in later correspondence with a restorer described being treated with "offensive superciliousness" by the National Gallery.[55] A 1947 commission concluded that no damage had been done in the recent cleanings, but some in conservation circles remain unhappy that the Gallery's attitude towards restoration has changed little since Ruhemann's time.

The National Gallery has also come under fire for misattributing paintings. Kenneth Clark's decision in 1939 to relabel a group of paintings by anonymous artists of the Venetian school as works by Giorgione, (a crowd-pulling artist due to the rarity of his paintings), caused outrage and made him deeply unpopular with his own staff, who locked him out of the library. More recently, the attribution of a 17th-century painting of Samson and Delilah (bought in 1980) to Rubens has been contested by a group of art historians, who believe that the National Gallery has not admitted the mistake to avoid embarrassing those who were involved in the purchase, many of whom still work for the Gallery.[56]

Collection highlights

For more articles on individual works, see Category:Collections of the National Gallery, London


Directors of the National Gallery
Sir Charles Lock Eastlake 1855–1865
Sir William Boxall 1866–1874
Sir Frederick William Burton 1874–1894
Sir Edward Poynter 1894–1904
Sir Charles Holroyd 1906–1916
Sir Charles Holmes 1916–1928
Sir Augustus Daniel 1929–1933
Sir Kenneth Clark 1934–1945
Sir Philip Hendy 1946–1967
Sir Martin Davies 1968–1973
Sir Michael Levey 1973–1986
Neil MacGregor 1987–2002
Dr Charles Saumarez Smith 2002–2007
Dr Nicholas Penny 2008–

Associate artists

Since 1989, the gallery has run a scheme that gives a studio to contemporary artists to create work based on the permanent collection. They usually hold the position of associate artist for two years and are given an exhibition in the National Gallery at the end of their tenure. The list of associate artists so far is as follows:
Artist Tenure
Paula Rego 1989–1990
Ken Kiff 1991–1993
Peter Blake 1994–1996
Ana Maria Pacheco 1997–1999
Ron Mueck 2000–2002
John Virtue 2003–2005
Alison Watt 2006–2008

See also



a. ^ Sculptures and applied art are in the Victoria and Albert Museum, the British Museum houses earlier art, non-Western art, prints and drawings, and art of a later date is at Tate Modern. Some British art is in the National Gallery, but the National Collection of British Art is mainly in Tate Britain.
b. ^ St Martin's Workhouse (to the east) was cleared for the construction of E. M. Barry's extension, whereas St George's Barracks stayed until 1911, supposedly because of the need for troops to be at hand to quell disturbances in Trafalgar Square. (Conlin 2006, 401) Wilkins hoped for more land to the south, but was denied it as building there would have obscured the view of St Martin-in-the-Fields.
c. ^ They are as follows: above the main entrance, a blank roundel (originally to feature the Duke of Wellington's face) flanked by two female figures (personifications of Europe and Asia/India, sites of his campaigns) and high up on the eastern façade, Minerva by John Flaxman, originally Britannia.


  1. ^ National Gallery, London: About, ARTINFO, 2008,, retrieved 2008-07-30 
  2. ^ "Constitution". The National Gallery. Retrieved 14 March 2010. 
  3. ^ Gentili 2000, 7
  4. ^ Chilvers, Ian (2003). The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Art and Artists. Oxford Oxford University Press, p. 413. The formula was used by Michael Levey, later the Gallery's eleventh director, for the title of a popular survey of European painting: Levey, Michael (1972). From Giotto to Cézanne: A Concise History of Painting. London: Thames and Hudson
  5. ^ Potterton 1977, 8
  6. ^ a b c Taylor 1999, 29–30
  7. ^ Moore, Andrew (2 October 1996). "Sir Robert Walpole's pictures in Russia". Magazine Antiques. Retrieved 2007-10-14. 
  8. ^ Penny 2008, 466
  9. ^ Fullerton, Peter (1979). Some aspects of the early years of the British Institution for Promoting the Fine Arts in the United Kingdom 1805–1825. MA dissertation, Courtauld Institute of Art., p. 37
  10. ^ Conlin 2006, 45
  11. ^ Conlin 2006, 51
  12. ^ a b Taylor 1999, 36–7
  13. ^ a b 'Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery', Survey of London: volume 20: St Martin-in-the-Fields, pt III: Trafalgar Square & Neighbourhood (1940), pp. 15–18. Date accessed: 15 December 2009.
  14. ^ MacGregor, Neil (2004). "A Pentecost in Trafalgar Square", pp. 27–49 in Cuno, James (ed.). Whose Muse? Art Museums and the Public Trust. Princeton: Princeton University Press and Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Art Museums, p.30
  15. ^ Quoted in Langmuir 2005, 11
  16. ^ Robertson, David (2004). "Eastlake, Sir Charles Lock (1793–1865)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  17. ^ Grove Dictionary of Art, Vol. 9, p. 683
  18. ^ a b c Baker, Christopher and Henry, Tom (2001). "A short history of the National Gallery" in The National Gallery: Complete Illustrated Catalogue. London: National Gallery Company, pp. x–xix
  19. ^ NG London/Turner Bequest. Retrieved on 11 January 2009
  20. ^ Conlin 2006, 107
  21. ^ The Mond Bequest (Official NG website)
  22. ^ Conlin 2006, 132
  23. ^ Conlin 2006, 134
  24. ^ Spalding 1998, 39
  25. ^ Conlin 2006, 131
  26. ^ Bosman 2008, 25
  27. ^ MacGregor, op. cit., p.43
  28. ^ Bosman 2008, 79
  29. ^ Bosman 2008, 35
  30. ^ Bosman 2008, 91–3
  31. ^ Bosman 2008, 99
  32. ^ "Sir Denis Mahon". Cronaca. 2003-02-23. Retrieved 2009-02-08. 
  33. ^ a b Gaskell 2000, 179–182
  34. ^ Bailey, Martin (2 November 2005). "National Gallery may start acquiring 20th-century art". The Art Newspaper. Retrieved 2007-10-14. 
  35. ^ Gayford, Martin (23 April 2007). "Wanted – National Gallery Chief to Muster Cash". Retrieved 2009-03-21. 
  36. ^ a b Liscombe 1980, 180–82
  37. ^ a b Summerson 1962, 208–9. Summerson's "mantelpiece" comparison inspired the title of Conlin's 2006 history of the Gallery, The Nation's Mantelpiece (op. cit.).
  38. ^ Grove Dictionary of Art, Vol. 33, p. 192
  39. ^ Conlin 2006, 60
  40. ^ Conlin 2006, 367
  41. ^ Quoted in Tyack, Geoffrey (1990). "'A Gallery Worthy of the British People': James Pennethorne's Designs for the National Gallery, 1845-1867", pp. 120–134 in Architectural History, Vol. 33, 1990, p. 120
  42. ^ Conlin 2006, 384-5
  43. ^ Barker 1982, 116–7
  44. ^ Conlin 2006, 396
  45. ^ Conlin 2006, 399
  46. ^ Conlin 2006, 404–5
  47. ^ Oliver 2004, 54
  48. ^ See for example National Gallery (corporate author) (1974). The Working of the National Gallery. London: National Gallery Publishing, p. 8: "the National Gallery has suffered from the visual pretentiousness of its 19th century buildings". The modernist North Galleries opened the following year.
  49. ^ They were restored only in 2005. Jury, Louise (14 June 2004). "A Victorian masterpiece emerges from beneath the whitewash". The Independent. Retrieved 2007-10-14. 
  50. ^ "A speech by HRH The Prince of Wales at the 150th anniversary of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), Royal Gala Evening at Hampton Court Palace". Retrieved 2007-06-16. 
  51. ^ "Prince's new architecture blast". 2005-02-21. Retrieved 2007-06-16. 
  52. ^ "No cash for 'highest slum'". 2001-02-09. Retrieved 2007-06-16. 
  53. ^ Bomford 1997, 72
  54. ^ Bomford 1997, 7
  55. ^ Walden 2004, 176
  56. ^ " The Strange Story of the Samson and Delilah". 


The National Gallery seen from atop Nelson's Column
The National Gallery seen from Trafalgar Square
  • Barker, Felix; Hyde, Ralph (1982), London As It Might Have Been, London: John Murray 
  • Bomford, David (1997), Conservation of Paintings, London: National Gallery Company 
  • Bosman, Suzanne (2008), The National Gallery in Wartime, London: National Gallery Company 
  • Conlin, Jonathan (2006), The Nation's Mantelpiece: A History of the National Gallery, London: Pallas Athene 
  • Gaskell, Ivan (2000), Vermeer's Wager: Speculations on Art History, Theory and Art Museums, London: Reaktion 
  • Gentili, Augusto; Barcham, William; Whiteley, Linda (2000), Paintings in the National Gallery, London: Little, Brown & Co. 
  • Jencks, Charles (1991), Post-Modern Triumphs in London, London and New York: Academy Editions, St. Martin's Press 
  • Langmuir, Erika (2005), The National Gallery Companion Guide, London and New Haven: Yale University Press 
  • Liscombe, R. W. (1980), William Wilkins, 1778–1839, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 
  • Oliver, Lois (2004), Boris Anrep: The National Gallery Mosaics, London: National Gallery Company 
  • Penny, Nicholas (2008), National Gallery Catalogues (new series): The Sixteenth Century Italian Paintings, Volume II, Venice 1540–1600, London: National Gallery Publications Ltd, ISBN 1857099133 
  • Pevsner, Nikolaus; Bradley, Simon (2003), The Buildings of England London 6: Westminster, London and New Haven: Yale University Press 
  • Potterton, Homan (1977), The National Gallery, London, London: Thames & Hudson 
  • Smith, Charles Saumarez (2009), The National Gallery: A Short History, London: Frances Lincoln Limited 
  • Spalding, Frances (1998), The Tate: A History, London: Tate Gallery Publishing 
  • Summerson, John (1962), Georgian London, London: Penguin 
  • Taylor, Brandon (1999), Art for the Nation: Exhibitions and the London Public, 1747–2001, Manchester: Manchester University Press 
  • Walden, Sarah (2004), The Ravished Image: An Introduction to the Art of Picture Restoration & Its Risks, London: Gibson Square 
  • Whitehead, Christopher (2005), The Public Art Museum in Nineteenth Century Britain, Farnham: Ashgate Publishing 

External links

Coordinates: 51°30′31″N 0°07′42″W / 51.5086°N 0.1283°W / 51.5086; -0.1283

Simple English

The National Gallery, London is an art gallery in London, England, which has one of the finest collections of European paintings in the world. What makes this gallery so important is that, although there are bigger galleries, The National Gallery has many paintings of very high quality and also because it has paintings by famous artists whose works are very rare. These rare paintings include works by Duccio, Masaccio, Uccello, Piero della Francesca, Leonardo, Giorgione, Michelangelo, Caravaggio, Vermeer, Chardin, Klimt, Rousseau and Redon.

The National Gallery is on Trafalgar Square, which is one of the busiest tourist places in London. It is a grand building of pale grey limestone, with a central dome and a large Classical style porch (portico) like an Ancient Greek temple. To the left side, the gallery has a large new building called The Sainsbury Wing. [[File:|thumb|265px|The National Gallery, photo Yorick Petey.]]



In 1823 a collector called Sir George Beaumont offered to give his famous collection of paintings to the British Government to start a public art gallery. In 1824 another famous collection of paintings was on sale. The owner, John Julius Angerstein, had died. It looked as if his paintings would be sold outside England. Then there was another offer of paintings from a third collector, The Reverend Holwell Carr. The Parliament had to make a quick decision.

The Parliament voted that a national collection should be started and a gallery should be built. They gave 60,000 Pounds Sterling to buy the Angerstein paintings. They got 38 pictures and were able to display them publicly in the Angerstein House.

File:Raphael Madonna of the
Raphael's Madonna with the pinks, painted about 1506, is one of the latest important paintings bought by the National Gallery.

The collection grew quickly with the Beaumont and Holwell Carr paintings, and others, being bought or given. A new gallery was needed. In 1831 the plans of the architect William Wilkins were accepted. The site which looks over Trafalgar Square was chosen, old buildings were demolished and the magnificent new gallery was opened on April 9, 1838.

When the National Gallery opened, there was a strong opinion that paintings of the High Renaissance period of the late 1400s to Baroque paintings of the 1600s were the finest type of art. The word primitive was used to describe Italian paintings from the 1300s and early 1400s. Luckily, the director of the Gallery, Sir Charles Eastlake, thought it was important to collect some of these primitive paintings, as well as the more popular High Renaisance paintings. That is how the National Gallery came to own so many very rare works from the Late Middle Ages and Early Renaissance periods.

In the 1870s the Gallery was lucky to get two collections of paintings by famous Dutch artists. The building had to be made larger to house them. The Gallery was also given paintings by famous British artists; soon there were so many that most of them were moved out to a new gallery called the Tate Museum of British Art.

By the 20th century, it was getting more difficult to buy very important paintings; there were other galleries in the United States and Germany who were trying to buy the same paintings. So the National Gallery began to buy works by more modern painters and soon had a collection of 19th and early 20th century paintings. This is not a large part of the National Gallery's collection, but it does show small works by many very important artists, particularly the French Impressionists.

Important paintings

Early Italian

The story of this painting is a Christian legend, in which a dragon has stolen a princess. The princess charmed the dragon and tied it with her belt, but she could not escape. The noble George came to her rescue and killed the Dragon. There are many paintings of Saint George in the National Gallery because he is the patron saint of England. Uccello has tried to show the perspective of the landscape by arranging light and dark areas on the ground. Diagonal lines are important in this picture. The line made by the dragon's wing and leg go the same direction as George's spear while the body and tail go in the opposite direction.
  • Piero della Francesca, The Baptism of Christ, c.1450, Umbria
  • Mantegna, The Agony in the Garden, 1460, Mantua
  • Pollaiuolo, The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian, 1475, Florence
File:Venus and
The story of this painting comes from Roman Mythology. Mars, the God of War, has been making love to Venus, the Goddess of Love. He is so tired that he does not know that little fauns are playing with his weapons. But one is about to blow a big shell loudly in his ear. The message of this painting is that Love can win over War. The design is based on a big W. which makes the painting symmetrical. Botticelli did this for the bedroom of Giuliano de'Medici, a wealthy nobleman from Florence. He painted Mars to look like Giuliano and Venus to look like his girlfriend but Giuliano did not have much time to enjoy his paintings as he was murdered only a short time later.

Early Northern European painting

The Wilton Diptych
The Wilton Diptych is one of the most precious paintings in the National Gallery, because most small art works from Middle Ages in England were destroyed. This painting shows King Richard II of England being presented to the Virgin Mary by his three patron saints. It is painted in tempera; the colours are mixed with egg. The word "diptych" means it is in two parts and can be closed like a book. The background is covered with thinly beaten gold leaf. The blue is made from ground-up semi-precious stone, lapis lazuli. It may have been painted as a wedding present for the King while he was in France .
File:Gerard David
Gerard David
This painting is an altarpiece for a church. It shows the Virgin Mary seated like a queen on a throne with the Child Jesus. They are worshipped by three female saints and by the man who has paid the artist to do the picture for the church. He is called the "donor". Everything in the picture has been painted in great detail, the clothes, the tiles, the jewelry, the buildings and the flowers. Many of the things in the picture are symbols. The little dog is the symbol of faithfulness. The lilies are the symbol of the purity of the Virgin Mary. The painting does not show part of a story or a moment in time. It is has been painted to help the viewer calm the mind for prayer and worship.
  • Lucas Cranach, Cupid, stung by a bee, 1522, Weimer
  • Hans Holbein, The Ambassadors,, 1533, born Augsburg died London. See below.
  • Pieter Breughel the Elder, The Adoration of the Kings, 1564, Brussels

Italy in the 1500s

  • Titian, Bacchus and Ariadne, 1523, Venice
The story of this picture comes from Greek and Roman Mythology. Princess Ariadne has been shipwrecked on Naxos, the island of Bacchus, God of Wine. Bacchus sees Ariadne and falls in love at first sight. Titian shows him leaping from his chariot which is pulled by cheetahs, while Ariadne turns to run away. But Ariadne has looked into Bacchus's eyes, and she has fallen in love also. In the sky is the crown of stars which Bacchus gave her at their wedding. Titian has painted a spiral movement in many of the figures. It can be seen in Ariadne's red scarf. Although this painting is about Mythology, the figures are very realistic.
File:Lorenzo Lotto
Lorenzo Lotto
  • Lorenzo Lotto, Lady as Lucretia, 1530, Venice
This portrait shows a woman in a richly coloured velvet dress, holding a drawing of Lucretia, a noble woman of Ancient Rome who committed suicide by stabbing herself after she had been raped. The painting may have been done for a family who wanted their daughter to marry well. The symbolism of the painting shows firstly that the young woman is rich and secondly, she is sexually pure. These two things were important in making a good marriage. Lotto has used contrast of colour in the orange and green dress to make a rich effect. He has also made an unusual use in the contrast of tone. Very light areas such as her face, bosom and hand control the centre of the painting. Three more very light areas are placed to the right side, the drawing, hand and note. This arrangement is asymmetrical
  • Bronzino, Allegory, c.1550, Florence. See below.
  • Tintoretto, St George and the Dragon, 1560s, Venice

Italy, France and Spain in the 1600s

The story of this painting comes from the Bible. Two of Jesus' followers were walking on the road to Emmaus, talking sadly about the death of Jesus. A man came and walked with them, but at first they did not know him. That night, having dinner at an inn, they suddenly knew it was Jesus who had risen from the dead and was now alive. Caravaggio has shown this moment in time as if it was a photograph. The things that make this picture seem so real are the light, the movement and the details. Caravaggio has painted the light coming from one side as if there was a large lamp. The head of the innkeeper makes a shadow behind Jesus that is like a halo. The picture has caught a single second when Jesus has raised his hand, one man starts to stand up and the other is throwing his arms out. Only the innkeeper is still. The view of Jesus' hand, the man's arms and the other man's elbow are foreshortened. The details show ordinary people with ordinary clothes that are old and torn. There is also a still life of the basket at the edge of the table. Caravaggio's lighting and realism were copied by many other painters, including Rembrandt and Velazquez.
  • El Greco, Christ driving the Traders from the Temple, c.1600, Toledo
  • Annibale Carracci, Quo vadis?, 1602, Rome
  • Claude Le Lorrain, Departure of the Queen of Sheba, 1648, France and Rome
This imaginary landscape is based on a story from the Bible. In this scene, the Queen of Sheba is setting out on her journey from Africa to Palestine to meet King Solomon. But this story is told in small figures. What the artist really wanted to show was the misty morning light of the sunrise over the sea. He has also painted three different types of buildings. To the left is an ancient ruin like the ones the artist saw in Rome. In the background is a castle and tower from the Middle Ages. To the left the Queen is coming out of a grand palace in the new style of the Renaissance. Nothing in this painting has anything to do with Africa or Palestine. It is about Rome. By showing the Queen of Sheba, Poussin is saying that the city of Rome, with all its history for 2000 years, is like the most beautiful and intelligent Queen that ever lived. This sort of painting is called an "allegory".
  • Nicholas Poussin, Bacchanale, 1603, France and Rome
This painting is a scene from Roman Mythology. The women are nymphs, the spirits of the forest. Some of the men are satyrs and have goats' horns and hoofs. They live on Naxos, the island of Bacchus, the God of Wine, and spend a lot of time getting drunk, dancing and making love. In this wild party, even the babies are drinking wine. One nymph is about to smash a wine jug on the head of a satyr, who is trying to kiss her friend. Poussin has used big areas of bright colour. At first, the painting looks like a jumble of bodies, but everything is very carefully arranged to give a dancing effect to the whole picture. A big triangular shape contains all the figures. Outside the triangle on the right is a statue of Pan, the God of the Woods. On the left side is a beautiful landscape.


This picture is taken from Roman Mythology. It shows Venus the Goddess of Love and Beauty looking into a mirror held by her son Cupid. Velazquez spent most of his time painting portraits for the Royal Family of Spain and their relatives. He is one of the most famous portrait painters of all time. But this painting was probably done for himself, and when he did it, he put himself in danger of serious punishment. In Spain, although the King ruled, the Church was in control. They watched everything that everybody did, and had a very large number of people put to death. It was against the law in Spain to paint nude pictures like this one. Velazquez has been very careful to only show her back. The image of the face is not very clear. Old mirrors were not as clear as modern ones. Perhaps Velazquez wanted to disguise the face of the woman for her protection. The arrangement and colouring in this painting is very simple. The graceful lines of the body are repeated in the grey and white bed covers. The red curtain is at the same angle as her head, and is a warm colour, like her pink flesh.
  • Murillo, The Two Trinities, 1681, Seville

Holland and Flanders in the 1600s

  • Gerrit von Honthorst, Christ before the High priest, 1617, Utrecht


  • Rembrandt, Belshazzar's Feast, 1630s, Leyden
Rembrandt is best known as a painter of portraits, in particular for the many self portraits that record his life from when he was a teenager to his old age. He also painted many scenes from Bible stories like this one. Prince Belshazzar's father had taken the Jewish people to Babylon as slaves. Belshazzar was giving a party and he sent servants to bring the gold cups that had been stolen from the Temple in Jerusalem. Suddenly a strange hand appeared and wrote a message on the wall. No-one knew what it meant so Balshazzar asked Daniel, who was a Jewish prophet. Daniel said "You have been weighed and measured by God. You do not meet God's rules. Your days are numbered!" This painting shows how much the Dutch painters learnt from Caravaggio. This painting can be compared to the Supper at Emmaus. It is another scene full of drama. Rembrandt has placed two of the figures at unusual angles. Belshazzar's body is facing the viewer, but his head is screwed around to see what is happening behind him. As he leaps up from his chair, he knocks the golden cup held by one of his wives. She is also at an odd angle because the viewer lookes down on her head and shoulders. Rembrandt has made a contrast between the rich texture of his robes and his flabby face and fat belly.
  • Anthony van Dyck, Charles I of England on Horseback, 1631, London. See below.
Rubens was such a popular painter that he became rich and famous. He painted potraits and many stories from the Bible and Mythology. The story of this painting is from Greek and Roman Mythology. Paris was a prince who was brought up by a shepherd. He was given a golden apple and asked to judge a beauty contest between three Goddesses- Juno, the Goddess of the Family; Minerva, the Goddess of War and Venus, the Goddess of Love. Each one offered a reward:- wealth, success in battle and the most beautiful woman in the world as his wife. Paris chose the last and gave the apple to Venus. This was a big mistake! He made two very powerful people angry! And, what he did not realise was that the most beautiful woman in the world was already married. Rubens has painted a picture to decorate the wall of the home of a rich patron. The painting has lots of details that help to tell the story. These include little Cupid, a sheepdog, Juno's peacock, Minerva's scary shield and sheep grazing in the beautiful landscape. But the most important things in the painting are the three beautiful nudes. This was what made Ruben's pictures so popular.
  • Franz Hals, Family group, 1640s, Antwerp
  • Pieter der Hoogh, Courtyard in Delft, 1658, Delft. See below.
  • Johannes Vermeer, Young Woman at the Virginals, c.1670, Delft. See below.
  • Meyndert Hobbema, The Avenue, 1689, Middelharnis
Landscape painting became very popular in Holland in the 1600s. In this picture perspective is very important. In a very flat country, it can be hard to judge how far away things are. Hobbema has used this straight road with two rows of tall trees to give a feeling of how far away the town is. At first glance this painting seems quite symmetrical. But Hobbema has added lots of differences to make the painting more interesting, balancing a farmhouse on one side with a church on the other and making the two rows of trees quite different.

The 1700s

  • Watteau, The Lovers, c.1720, France
  • Canaletto, The Basin of St Mark's on Ascension Day, c.1740, Venice
  • Chardin, The little Teacher, c.1740, Paris. See below.
  • William Hogarth, Marriage a la Mode ( a story in six pictures), 1743, London
  • George Stubbs, A Family in their Phaeton, c.1750, England
In the 1700s, landscape paintings were popular in England, but they were more than just pictures of the beautiful countryside painted as decorations for a room. Most landscape paintings were also records of a family and the land that they owned. They were a sign of the family's wealth and status. In this painting the landowners show off their private park with its variety of trees. They also show off their splendid pair of horses and their elegant carriage called a "phaeton". Together, the coach and horses are the 18th century equal of a Daimler convertible. Stubbs was most famous for painting horses. He was a master at composing beautiful pictures. Here, he has created a balance between the lady's large fashionable hat set against the dark tree and the black horses against the pale sky.

1800 onwards

This is a sad painting. Its full name is The Fighting Temeraire tugged to her last Berth to be broken up as scrap. This is the last journey for one of the great warships that had fought for England against the French Fleet at the Battle of Trafalgar. Her tall elegant shape makes a contrast to the dirty black tugboat with smoking funnel that is towing her away. Turner, who was expert at painting the sea, the sky and the weather, has placed the moon in the sky near the sailing ship. The moon is in its last phase. On the other side of the picture, the sun rises with a red glow like fire on the water. The waning moon is the symbol of the passing of the age of great sailing ships. The blazing sun on the water is the symbol of the new age of the steam engine.


  • Henri Fantin-Latour, Apples on a Dish, 1861, France
This picture is a still life. In the Renaissance, carvings of still lifes were often part of the wooden decoration inside important rooms in a palace. In the 1600s and 1700s paintings of still lifes also became common and were most often seen in the dining room, where fruit, flowers and animals that had been killed for meat were fashionable decoration. In the 1800s many artists like Fantin-Latour painted small still lifes like this one to practice their skills at arranging a picture, at studying light and at studying texture. Many artists also painted still lifes because they were too poor to pay for an artist's model, or the weather was too bad to paint landscapes. Fantin-Latour did a large number of small pictures like this. He has arranged four apples of different colours and shapes and has made a study of how the light looks on their curved surfaces.
Seurat was a friend of the French Impressionist painters. He had a theory that all colour was made up of lots of colours which were sorted out when light passed into the eye. He experimented with colour by painting in tiny dots. His style of painting is called Pointillism. This large painting took a long time to do. Even though it is an outdoor scene with lots of figures, it is very still, as if time has stopped. When the painting is looked at closely, it can be seen that even the parts that seem white or black are made of hundreds of tiny dots of colour.
  • Edgar Degas, Combing Hair, c.1885, Paris
  • Cezanne, Mountains in Provence, 1890, Provence
Vincent van Gogh had a difficult and troubled life. He was born in Holland but went to paint in France. He had very few friends and had difficulty selling his paintings. Luckily he had the support of his brother Theo and a doctor for whom he painted pictures. This landscape is a good example of his style. In the painting, everything seems to have a life of its own. The clouds are like great beasts that roll across the sky, the waving grain reaches out like hands, the mountains are rumbling and the cypress pine looks quite dangerous. Vincent used each brush stroke to help create this flame-like movement. Another important thing in this painting is contrast. The colours change from warm reddish-orange to ice-blue. The big dark tree to the right is in tonal contrast with the white clouds. The vertical direction of the tree is in contrast to the horizontal direction of the landscape. In 1890, Vincent took his own life after painting hundreds of pictures in only five years.


Other pages


  • Michael Wilson, The National Gallery, London, 1977, Charles Letts and Co. ISBN 0-85097-257-4


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