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Places to Go: The National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery, London

Places to Go: The National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery, London

The National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery are two art galleries, in Trafalgar Square, London. They are different from each other because the second gallery contains mainly portraits, i.e. paintings of real people, whilst the first contains many different kinds of paintings, particularly scenic paintings. They can easily be reached from Charing Cross tube station, or a little walk from Waterloo through buzzing London. They’re also free to enter, so you needn’t break the bank to see some of the nation’s best works of art!


The galleries are separated, as in they have two different entrances, and you can’t get to the portrait gallery by going through the National Gallery. However, they’re still in the same building, which makes for a convenient outing! It is housed within a 19th Century building, with some really beautiful Victorian designs in the interior. It’s very grand and majestic, perfectly fitting for displaying such awesome works of art. You can start with either gallery, it doesn’t really matter, go with what you fancy.


In the National Portrait Gallery, you can see famous portraits of monarchs, politicians, and celebrities, ranging from the medieval era to the modern day! There’s an exhibition on at the moment with paintings of Tudor monarchs, including the famous and most-well known portraits of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. You can also see William Shakespeare’s “Chandos” portrait, the Gallery’s first. There’s also a large number of Victorian pictures, including a vast portrait of Victoria and Albert themselves. You can even see paintings of modern icons, for instance the Britpop band Blur and actor Ian McKellen (otherwise known as Gandalf).


In the National Gallery, there’s quite a few paintings by the Dutch artist Vincent Van Gogh, including the iconic “Sunflowers”, and his own self-portrait. There’s also that famous painting by Claude Monet, with the bridge over the peaceful lily pond, called “The Water Lily Pond”. I’m sure you know what I mean! This work is beautiful, but it’s particularly important because it’s one of the most famous examples of the impressionist movement, something many of us learn about in art classes at school.


Altogether, there’s a huge collection of art to look at, so if you’re really interested it’ll take half a day. If you only want to see a select few of the famous ones (like me), it won’t take you that long, maybe a couple of hours. Because it’s so centrally located, it’s really easy to do other things in the area, perhaps go and see a West End show in the evening to round off your day of experiencing “high culture” and pretending to be posh!


If you find your visit enlightening, and you want to learn more about art, pay a visit to the Tate galleries, in particular the Tate Britain. This gallery has a lot of Victorian art, particularly from the pre-Raphaelite movement, and contains famous images from this era – including the beautiful Ophelia (the one with the drowned lady with red hair in the pond, with lots of flowers floating around her). From there, you can take a high-speed boat along the Thames to the Tate Modern, which you’ll enjoy if you found the modern sections of the National Galleries particularly interesting.


Even if you’re not passionate about art, or are terrible at drawing yourself, it’s still enjoyable to admire the work of those who can actually paint. Plus, seeing these renowned works for yourself feels the same as seeing famous landmarks like Big Ben! Brilliant for a family day out.


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