London is very fortunate to have art galleries that are free to enter for all. If lockdown has shown me anything, it is how important art is to me. I didn’t realise it before, it’s just something I’ve always done, either alone or with a friend. I’m not an ‘expert’ or even know a huge amount about art; I just enjoy it. Art is for everybody, so do go to visit these galleries as soon as you can. I know I will.
National Art Gallery, Trafalgar Square
The building itself is spectacular, built in 1824 and taking a prime spot to the rear of Trafalgar Square. The addition of the Sainsbury wing (supported by the Sainsbury family) in 1991 opened up more space to be able to show the gallery’s 2,300 paintings.
What to see?
The gallery has responded well to the Covid threat and at the time of writing has a one-way system in place, with entrance to the west of the building. The National Galley has regular exhibitions. As soon as lockdown ends, there will be Durer’s Journeys show, with works from other collections of this important 15th century German Renaissance painter. There is an entrance charge for exhibitions, but this helps fund the gallery’s work.
I always suggest restricting your visit to an hour or so and spend your attention on a few works, rather than try to rush through too many. There are benches throughout for resting if you feel weary. There are too many pieces to comment on generally, including Van Gogh’s Sunflowers but I like The Bathers at Asnières by Georges Seurat; The Graham Children by Hogarth (I first saw this when I was in my twenties, so it’s like a friend); the magnificent Tiger in a Tropical Storm by Henri Rousseau and the superb colours used by Australian John Russell in Les Terrases de Monte Cassino. (I bang on about these in my other blog post here.)
The shop is excellent and there are good facilities for those with disabilities.
The Wallace Collection
Where is it?
Always a little under the radar, many of my friends have never heard of it. It’s positioned just north of Oxford Street on the northern border of Manchester Square, a mere seven-minute walk from Bond Street tube.
A brief history
Left to the nation by the widow of Sir Richard Wallace, himself the illegitimate son of the former residents, it was the London residence of the Seymour family. Wallace was an art collector too and had connections with Paris, in fact he is buried there.
What to see
The house and its 25 galleries still feel like a residence, which adds to its charm. It has important pieces of especially French Ancien Regime artefacts and is a shrine to everything that is golden, gilded, over the top and shiny. There was a stipulation that none of its possessions should ever be loaned, but I read that this has been relaxed recently. If you want to see the Laughing Cavalier, you need to come here.
My favourite is The Swing, by Fragonard. Hiding in the bushes is a young man and does Cupid have his finger to his lips? There is such joy in the girl’s face. She loses her slipper. On purpose or deliberately? It’s all symbolic and utterly delightful.
Madame de Pompadour by Boucher is also usually here and typical Rococo, but I’m not sure if it’s on show at the moment.
Huge ornate gold clocks that chime, oversized heavily decorated vases and lots and lots of paintings are all beautifully displayed in this fabulous place. There is a small gift shop, evening tours by appointment and a super glass-roofed conservatory/café making it a must-visit for me. Forget your Bond Street shopping and come here instead.
Where is it?
Tate Modern couldn’t be more different than the Wallace Collection, but it’s utterly fabulous. Set in an imposing old power station (Bankside) it was opened in 2000 by the Queen and is the most visited gallery in Britain. It features works from 1900.
The nearest station is Blackfriars, but I usually take the 15-minute walk from Waterloo.
It’s a large space, so pace yourself. Fortunately, there are plenty of places to have a rest. I sometimes take a book to read and just soak up the atmosphere after I’ve viewed a few pieces. Because of its size, you are more likely to see ‘installations’ and sculptures – as well as paintings – as it can accommodate them. The gallery tends to work on themes rather than time periods to categorise the works.
There are a couple of great shops – impossible to leave without buying something – and a bright, airy café with outside views.
Have you visited? Which is your favourite item? Let me know in the comments.