The National Gallery

Art galleries and winter go together like summer and the beach – M.M.J. Kerr

Just as hot summer sun and bright blue skies send me sprinting for the beach in every spare moment, so do short grey, drizzly winter days send me scuttling for the shelter of the Museum or the Art Gallery. So, when the darkness of the London nights peel back on rain-streaked windows and a low sky which threatens more, I head across the river to refuge among other, more benign landscapes in the National Gallery.

The National Gallery on a summer day
The National Gallery on a summer day

The National Gallery began its life in 1824 with a collection of just thirty eight pictures. As the collection increased, a larger building was needed to house it. The grand old building, which stands on the northern edge of Trafalgar Square was designed by William Wilkins and was completed in 1836. A new east wing was added in 1876 by EM Barry who also remodeled the interiors. In 1991, the Sainsbury Wing, was added on the site of a bombed out former furniture store.  Now, National Gallery collection fills forty six rooms.

There’s plenty to occupy a rainy day. You can wander from room to gorgeous room across gleaming wooden floors, between walls painted in dark shades of green, burgundy and dark grey hung with masterpieces representing six centuries of painting from all over Europe. It’s a trip through time, beginning in the mid-thirteenth century and ending in 1900, and across Europe through Italy, The Netherlands, Germany, Austria, England, France and Spain. All the great names are there; Botticelli, Michaelangelo, Da Vinci, Raphael, Titian, Caravaggio, Velasquez, Van Dyck, Rubens, Rembrandt, Canaletto, Guardi, Turner, Hogarth, Gainsborough, the French Impressionists, Cezanne, Gauguin and Van Gogh and so are many of the great and famous paintings, like Caravaggio’s supper at Emmaeus and Van Gogh’s Sunflowers. Succinct and very helpful little cards beside each painting explain a little of its story as well as its date and the painter’s details. Audio-guides are available to give in-depth explanations and Gallery tours take visitors through selected works.

Should your eyes begin to smart from all this looking and reading, take your lead from the many custodians nodding off at their corner posts, sink onto one of the polished wooden benches or better still into one of the leather couches, conveniently placed along the centre of the galleries and have a quick kip. When hunger strikes, take a break, head for refreshments in the Espresso Bar, the National Café or the National Dining rooms.

In all my visits I have still only covered half of those rooms. Still, this being London and this being winter, I’m sure that there will be many more rainy days.