The National Gallery in London is one of the finest Art Museums in the world – and one of the oldest. It’s one of my favorite places to visit when I visit London. This is one of London’s top free museums, and you can just walk in whenever you like and admire some of the finest works of art humanity has ever produced. But there are thousands of works in the museum – which ones are the top ones to make sure you see? Here’s my personal list. As with anything to do with art, this list is completely subjective and based on my own tastes. It’s landscape heavy because I like landscapes. I welcome your own recommendations in the comments!
THE HAY WAIN BY JOHN CONSTABLE
By far the most well-known work by Constable. This painting of Willy Lott’s Cottage in Suffolk is an iconic scene that helped the #British build their own conception of their countryside. When we think of the English countryside, we think of scenes like this. That’s because Constable painted them and gave us that vision of a bucolic wonderland. There’s a couch in front of this one, and I highly recommend sitting and staying awhile.
RAIN, STEAM AND SPEED JMW TURNER
One of two Turner’s on this list – they also happen to be next to each other in the gallery. Rain, Steam and Speed and the Great Western Railway is Turner’s attempt at showing the rapidly industrializing Victorian World. He painted this in his later years, so it’s more impressionistic than his earlier works (and his vision as going). The train is ghostly, as are the people in the boat. If you squint, you can just make out the hare running away from the train, symbolic of nature being pushed out of the way by the forward march of time.
THE FIGHTING TEMERAIRE BY JMW TURNER
Voted Britain’s most favorite painting on multiple occasions, this painting is symbolic of the passing of the age of sail to the age of steam. Represented by the Temeraire being towed to be scrapped. The ship was one of the major ships that led Britain to victory at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1812 and was one of the last ships to be scrapped (HMS VIctory is the only one that remains). It’s a sad picture of a ship given an elegiac ending, with that beautiful Turner sunset (said to be influenced by the eruption of Mount Tambora). This is probably my favorite British painting as well.
SUNFLOWERS BY VINCENT VAN GOGH
Van Gogh painted a lot of sunflowers in his day – so it’s not hard to see them in the various museums spread around the world. But the National Gallery has its own, and it’s beautiful.
WATER LILY POND MONET
In 1883 Monet moved to Giverny where he lived until his death. There, on the grounds of his property, he created a water garden ‘for the purpose of cultivating aquatic plants,’ over which he built an arched bridge in the Japanese style. In 1899, once the garden had matured, the painter undertook 17 views of the motif under differing light conditions. Surrounded by luxuriant foliage, the bridge is seen here from the pond itself, among an artful arrangement of reeds and willow leaves. This one is at the National Gallery; the others are spread around the museums of the world.
MR. AND MRS. ANDREWS THOMAS GAINSBOROUGH
Painted by Gainsborough around 1750, this is one of the most famous landscape paintings ever created in Britain. Why the couple pictured, the aristocratic Andrews family, are certainly handsome with lots of detail; the real start of this painting is the sublime English landscape beyond. You just want to step into the picture and run your hands over the wheat and listen to the sheep off in the distance bleat.
THE AMBASSADORS BY HANS HOLBEIN
Painted by Hans Holbein the Younger in the Tudor era, this painting is famous for the amount of detail on display in the objects in the picture. It’s also one of the most lifelike paintings of the era. It also has a visual trick where if you look at the image at the right angle, you can see a fully formed skull. It’s a remarkable painting to see in person.
THE ARNOLFINI PORTRAIT
This is a 1434 oil painting on oak panel by the Early Netherlandish painter Jan van Eyck. It forms a full-length double portrait, believed to depict the Italian merchant Giovanni di Nicolao Arnolfini and his wife, presumably in their home in the Flemish city of Bruges. It is considered one of the most original and complex paintings in Western art, because of its beauty, complex iconography, geometric orthogonal perspective, and expansion of the picture space with the use of a mirror. It’s remarkable.
This work was painted in the final year of Rembrandt’s life and is one of his last pictures. Rembrandt painted lots of self-portraits, and this was the last. I’d also recommend checking out the National Gallery’s other self-portrait which was painted 30 years earlier. It’s a remarkable comparison.
EQUESTRIAN PORTRAIT OF CHARLES I
The Equestrian Portrait of Charles I is an oil painting on canvas by Anthony van Dyck, showing Charles I on horseback. The portrait is thought to have been painted in about 1637–38, only a few years before the English Civil War broke out in 1642. It shows a King in the prime of his life. But it’s but a snapshot. By 1649, Charles I was executed, the only British monarch to be deposed, tried and executed by his own government.
What’s your favorite work of art in the National Gallery in London? Let us know in the comments below!
This major exhibition at Tate Britain focuses on the time Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) spent in Britain between 1873 and 1876 when he was in his early twenties. He explored the (then) largest city in the world a decade before he became an artist.
The exhibition is able to look at the artist’s relationship with Britain and explores how Van Gogh was inspired by #British art, literature and culture throughout his career. And he, in turn, inspired British artists from Walter Sickert to Francis Bacon.
VAN GOGH AND BRITAIN
Vincent van Gogh is without a doubt one of the greatest and most influential artists of all time. His stay in Britain changed his vision of the world and himself, encouraging him to become an artist. His short career produced over 2,000 artworks including over 800 paintings, most created in the last two years of his life.
Tate’s last Van Gogh exhibition was in 1947 and introduced his work to a whole generation of artists working in Britain at the time. This exhibition has the largest group of Van Gogh paintings shown in the UK for nearly a decade. It reveals the impact Britain had on Van Gogh as well as the enormous influence he had on British artists. It includes over 40 works by the artist from public and private collections around the world. They include L’Arlésienne 1890 from Museu de Arte de São Paolo, Starry Night on the Rhône 1888 from the Musée d’Orsay, Paris, Shoes from the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, and the rarely loaned Sunflowers 1888 from the National Gallery, London.
The exhibition also features late works including two painted by Van Gogh in the Saint-Paul asylum, At Eternity’s Gate 1890 from the Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo (see below) and Prisoners Exercising 1890 from the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow.
Tracing Van Gogh from his obscure years in London to the extraordinary national fame he achieved in the 1950s, the exhibition shows how his uncompromising art and life paved the road for modern British artists like Matthew Smith, Christopher Wood and David Bomberg. It concludes with an important group of portraits by Francis Bacon based on a Van Gogh self-portrait known only from photographs since its destruction by wartime bombing. To artists like Bacon, and the British public at large, Van Gogh epitomised the idea of the embattled, misunderstood artist, set apart from mainstream society.
“I often felt low in England … but the Black and White and Dickens, are things that make up for it all.”
Vincent Van Gogh, 1883
The exhibition opens with his love of reading. Van Gogh knew four languages, including English, which he spoke and read well. He was devoted to Charles Dickens and wrote, ‘My whole life is aimed at making the things from everyday life that Dickens describes.’
Produced during the last year of his life, this portrait of his friend Marie Ginoux has French translations of two books he loved: Charles Dickens’s Christmas Books and American Author Harriet Beecher Stowe’s anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
Van Gogh had read Dicken’s A Christmas Carol every year ‘since he was a boy’ and discovered Uncle Tom’s Cabin in his twenties.
British prints changed the way Van Gogh saw his surroundings. Dustmen found their way into the literature and illustrations of the 19th century. Van Gogh’s English title, written on the drawing below, links it to Dickens’s novel Our Mutual Friend.
When Van Gogh first took up art late in 1880, he studied manuals and reproductions of artworks to help him. His first known drawing from that time depicted men and women miners in the Belgium mining region, where he had lived and preached for a year.
VAN GOGH IN LONDON
“How I love London”
Vincent van Gogh, 1875
Van Gogh arrived in London in 1873 as a young trainee art dealer for Goupil. The vast modern city prompted him to explore new avenues of life, art and love. He immersed himself in London culture. He saw paintings in museums, galleries, and art dealer’s rooms that he would remember all of his life.
He admired the pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood of artists. He never forgot meeting John Everett Millais in the street and seeing Chill October (probably at auction house Christie’s). Van Gogh felt that nature was ‘more serious and intimate’ in autumn. He copied out John Keats’s poem ‘To Autumn’ telling friends that he was ‘the favourite of the painters here, and that’s how I came to be reading him.’ And while he was initially happy in London, as he learned more of the world and the disappointments of love, his letters home referred to feeling ‘melancholy’.
Van Gogh knew London’s grim prisons from his walks through the city, as well as Dickens’s searing account ‘A Visit to Newgate’ and the prison’s presence in four of his novels. Van Gogh later collected over 30 prints of prisons and prisoners, including two of Gustave Doré’s illustration of Newgate from the book London: A Pilgrimage.
The exhibition explores Van Gogh’s passion for British graphic artists and prints. Van Gogh had written about his use of prints by other artists, ‘It’s not copying … It is rather translating into another language, the one of colours.’
Van Gogh’s only painting of London in the exhibition, this was made during the last year of his life while he was in hospital.
Van Gogh lived near Brixton, that was then in the south London suburbs. There’s a reproduction of the facade of 87 Hackford Road, Stockwell, at this exhibition.
The actual house is currently being renovated. The owners, former violinist Jian (James) Wang and his wife, Alice Childs, intend to turn the house into a creative base for Chinese visitors.
Earlier this year, crumpled papers and an 1867 pamphlet of prayers and hymns were found hidden under floorboards and between attic timbers. While living here, Van Gogh was devoutly Christian. The religious pamphlet was published by a company in the same street as the gallery where Van Gogh worked so could well have been read by him or his landlady, Ursula Loyer.
Each day, Van Gogh walked across Westminster Bridge and through the city to Goupil in Covent Garden, wearing his top hat. De Nittis sold his work through Goupil, and Van Gogh saw this painting in the Paris branch when he was there for a short time. He wrote to his brother Theo with a small sketch of Westminster Bridge (see below).
“When I was in London, how often I would stand on the Thames Embankment and draw as I made my way home from Southampton Street in the evening.”
Vincent van Gogh, 1883
He enjoyed rowing in the Thames and walking in Kensington Gardens. He wrote to his friends, ‘I haven’t yet been to the Crystal Palace and the Tower, nor to Tussaud’s … For the time being I have enough with the museums, parks, etc.’ He went to the National Gallery near his office and also visited the South Kensington Museum (now the V&A), the Wallace Collection and Hampton Court. He signed his name in the visitors’ book at Dulwich Picture Gallery.
AVENUES OF TREES
Through this exhibition, it was lovely to see this theme develop in his work.
This early watercolour was his first important experiment with a figure on an autumn road. The ditch beyond the trees, distant red roofs and a couple in conversation are similar to Meindert Hobbema’s Avenue at Middelharnis which is also on display here (see below). The deep perspective highlights the isolation of the man sweeping up leaves.
In this work, he presented the avenue side-on to explore the landscape against the sky.
Twenty years after he died, the Manet and the Post-Impressionists exhibition introduced British audiences to Van Gogh’s work. He produced five versions of this painting and he too thought the bold colour was extreme.
“It’s a woman dressed in green … Her hair is entirely orange and in plaits. The complexion is worked up in chrome yellow … This wallpaper is blue-green with pink dahlias and dotted with orange and with ultramarine … Whether I’ve actually sung a lullaby with colour I leave to the critics.”
Vincent van Gogh, 1889
The painting styles in the exhibition shocked visitors and critics often focused on Van Gogh’s personal history with prejudice around mental health at the time. A typical comment, by the writer C. Lewis Hind described him as ‘a madman and genius’. These responses have affected how the art of Van Gogh is seen, even today.
This painting is thought to have first been seen in London at the Manet and the Post-Impressionistsexhibition in 1910. The world-renowned Sunflowers 1888 is on display with the great British paintings it inspired as it contributed to a renaissance in British flower painting.
FIRST SOLO EXHIBITION IN BRITAIN
It wasn’t until 1923 when there was the first solo exhibition of Van Gogh’s work in Britain. This painting of olive trees was included. It was made while he was staying at the Saint-Paul Hospital. It was bought by Michael Sadler, one of the leading British collectors of modern art, before being acquired by the National Galleries of Scotland in 1934.
You can see how it influenced Vanessa Bell.
And you can see how ‘Shoes’ influenced William Nicholson.
VAN GOGH AT THE TATE
The Arts Council was founded in 1946 and staged the exhibition Van Gogh at the Tate Gallery in 1947. Nearly five thousand people visited a day and it was dubbed ‘the Miracle on Millbank’. Van Gogh’s dazzling colours cheered the post-war city and the idea of him as an artist of the people chimed with the post-war mood and ideals of art for all.
We may think we know Van Gogh’s style, but would you recognise these artworks as his?
This one felt more African to me in the content, colours and the painting style.
Firstly, seeing so many of Van Gogh’s artworks in one place is an absolute joy. You will definitely come away with a better understanding of him and his influences.
Photos of his works do not show the depth but being here gave me the opportunity to really see the vibrancy and how the oils are not flat.
There were times that the gallery lighting bothered me as it meant shadows over glass cases when I leaned in to view the contents. And I think there was quite a lot of presuming with the captions (I was lucky as I met a Van Gogh expert who gave me more background information). Hopefully, this review will give you enough knowledge to help you enjoy the exhibition too.
I would say you need 1.5 to 2 hours to see it all. Definitely, don’t rush as there are some wondrous artworks here and there will be crowds around the exhibition highlights.
Christopher Wren is quite possibly the most famous name in #British architecture. The structures across the United Kingdom that he designed are amongst the country’s most lauded and beautiful places. Wren lived in interesting times, seeing the #English Civil War, the Restoration, and the Great Fire of #London. The last of these events really elevated his career to legendary status, as the fire burned away 436 acres of the City of London, including 13,200 homes and 87 churches such as Old St. Paul’s Cathedral. Wren was the face of London’s rebuilding after the fire, and many of his structures in the city remain standing. We’ve identified our ten favorite Christopher Wren-designed buildings below, and you can let us know your favorites in the comments.
The main ceremonial entrance to the City of London on the Westminster side, the Temple Bar gate was one of many structures damaged by the Great Fire and subsequently rebuilt by Wren. King Charles II commissioned the new gate from Wren and was built between 1669 and 1672. In 2003 it was taken down and painstakingly reconstructed in Paternoster Square.
ST. VEDAST FOSTER LANE
Many of the churches destroyed by the Great Fire were rebuilt by Christopher Wren, and though St. Vedast was not totally destroyed, it did require substantial reconstruction between 1695 and 1701. The spire is emblematic of Wren’s work and similar to many others he designed while rebuilding the City of London’s churches, combining neoclassical and gothic elements. The church had to be rebuilt again following the London Blitz but retained many of Wren’s changes.
Once home to the Duke of Marlborough and now the headquarters of the Commonwealth of Nations, Marlborough House was constructed by Wren and his son in 1711. Their design was quite outstanding, using primarily brick with rusticated cornerstones that make for a striking contrast. Much of the design was done by the younger Wren, but both got the sack when the Duchess was displeased with their progress and oversaw the rest of the construction herself.
MONUMENT TO THE GREAT FIRE OF LONDON
Perhaps the simplest structure designed by Christopher Wren, it’s also one of his more famous works in the city. The design was a simple Doric column with an observation platform with flutes and topped with a copper ball that had flames coming out. The monument was a true collaboration between Wren and fellow architect Robert Hooke. The monument’s height puts it as many feet tall as the distance it is from Thomas Farriner’s bakery where the fire began.
ROYAL HOSPITAL CHELSEA
A retirement and nursing home for veterans of the British Army, the Royal Hospital Chelsea was founded by King Charles II, who commissioned Wren to design the building. Wren’s design was for enough buildings to cover housing and offices and had to expand his plans to include two quadrangles that are now known as Light House Court and College Court. He’s also responsible for the design of the Great Hall, which is a magnificent part of the hospital.
Kensington Palace was originally built in 1605 and became known as Nottingham House in 1619 after it was purchased by the First Earl of Nottingham. When it came into the possession of King William III and Queen Mary II, they tapped Christopher Wren to expand the house so that it would be fit to become their new Kensington Palace. Wren added three-story pavilions to the corners to provide more accommodation for the monarchs’ guests. He also designed the Orangery which served as the palace greenhouse.
ROYAL OBSERVATORY, GREENWICH
King Charles II’s interest in astronomy led him to commission the Royal Observatory in Greenwich in 1675. As Surveyor of the King’s Works, Christopher Wren chose the site for the observatory as well as designed the building. Working again alongside Robert Hookie, the two developed the first building purpose-built for scientific discovery in the United Kingdom. The observatory was partly constructed out of the remains of Duke Humphrey’s Tower and remains a lovely and scientifically important place.
HAMPTON COURT PALACE
A significant portion of Hampton Court Palace was constructed long before Christopher Wren was alive, but he still got the chance to make his mark on it after William and Mary came to power. As with Kensington, they wanted Wren to modernize parts of the palace, and he ended up demolishing half of the Tudor structures, and he would have done more if money permitted. Instead of completely rebuilding the demolished portions, he had to content himself with constructing new apartments for the king and queen as well as residences in the south and east parts of the palace.
OLD ROYAL NAVAL COLLEGE
Having constructed the Royal Hospital Chelsea for veterans of the British Army, Wren also designed the fantastically splendid buildings of the Old Royal Naval College that served originally as the “Royal Hospital for Seamen at Greenwich.” Working with frequent collaborator Nicholas Hawksmoor, Wren built upon his designs for RHC and combined them with inspiration from the Hotel des Invalides in Paris. His original plan called for a single dome, but when Queen Mary stated her intention to have her view of the river from Queen’s House unspoiled, Wren created the split, two-domed structure we know today.
ST. PAUL’S CATHEDRAL
Earning the top spot on this list, St. Paul’s Cathedral is arguably the greatest contribution Christopher Wren made to London. Wren had already been tapped to revitalize Old St. Paul’s in 1665 before it was destroyed in the fire the following year. His design went through five stages, with the final design resembling a more Baroque version of St. Peter’s Basilica, including the double-shelled dome that was as tall as the tower of Old St. Paul’s while being visually stunning. Even with the skyscrapers going up around it in recent decades, St. Paul’s still manages to cut a striking figure in the London skyline and typically the first building anyone associates with Sir Christopher Wren.
If you go down to Tate Britain today, you’re in for a big surprise. The beautiful and spacious central hall, officially known as the Duveen Galleries, is filled with big chunky industrial equipment.
It’s the work of artist Mike Nelson, who was commissioned to fill this massive space, and the result is a fantastic contrast. Polished floors and high ceilings meet gritty industrial machinery.
Photo: Tate (Matt Greenwood)
Tate Britain is designed to be a museum of British art history, so Nelson has filled it with a part of #British history that we won’t see at Tate. All of the items are recovered from places that no longer need them — including machinery from factories that have shut down, woodwork from old army barracks and doors from an old NHS hospital.
Nelson grew up in the East Midlands, and has included knitting machines like those from the textile factories he grew up around. We imagine there are similar memories for a lot of those who grew up across the UK at the same time as Nelson — he was born in 1967. However, it’s fair to say for the generations growing up after those years, or in areas where these industries weren’t based, it must feel like a world away.
Photo: Tate (Matt Greenwood)
For this Londoner, who was a child of the ’90s, Britain’s industrial past is something that’s referred to but not directly experienced… and it shows. All the big pieces of the equipment in the show are familiar enough that we can identify a drill, but if asked what it could be used to make, we would have no idea. Similarly with textile equipment — we circumnavigated one item, trying to figure out what it does, but walked away none the wiser.
Photo: Tate (Matt Greenwood)
It’s exactly how we’d behave in The British Museum as we look at an Egyptian tablet and try to decipher the hieroglyphs on it. It’s scary to see how fast technology has progressed and how divorced we are from the manufacturing process behind the goods we use in our daily lives.
Just like how Greek and Roman statues remind us of ancient times, these massive machines and old wooden doors act as monuments to a Britain that no longer exists — marking our transition from manufacturing to a services industry. Whether that’s something to mourn or an advancement to celebrate will be down to each visitor to decide for themselves. What we can say for certain is Mike Nelson has produced a thought provoking installation that’s riveting.