The National Gallery stands in a dominating position overlooking Trafalgar Square in the centre of London. Founded in 1824, it houses an estimated 2300 works of art dating from the middle of the 13th century to the early 20th century. Since its opening, the gallery’s collection has grown into what is now considered to be one of the world’s finest collections, with all the major genres, styles and movements, particularly well represented are paintings from the Renaissance period.
The birth of the National Gallery came when the British Government purchased 38 paintings from the estate of John Julius Angerstein, a Russian banker who had lived in England. The paintings were first displayed at Angerstein’s former residence in Pall Mall. It soon became apparent that the house was too small for the purpose especially as the collection began to grow, so the National Gallery was moved to slightly larger premises, although remaining in Pall Mall. The new location proved to be equally unsuitable to hold a National collection. In 1832 construction of a new building to hold the national collection commenced. Designed by the architect William Wilkins, the location chosen was in Trafalgar Square, which at the time was still Under development.
Over the years, as the collection grew, so did the building itself, new wings have been added and although the grand facade remains, the building itself has been completely redeveloped to meet the growing challenges of housing the exhibits. With such a vast array of work on display, it is impossible to see them all in any detail in a single visit. Listing the artists would resemble a “who’s who” of great, mostly European painters.
The 15th century Renaissance period is well represented with works from many great artists including Bellini and Botticelli. The 16th century features such artists as Holbein and Titan. The 17th century is represented by the likes of Rubens, Van Dyck, Vermeer, and Caravaggio. As we move through the 18th and into the 19th century, the huge diversification of the art of this time is expressed through the work of Monet, Cezanne and Van Gogh. One of the gallery’s prized exhibits, and not to be missed, is Da Vinci’s, The Virgin and Child with St Anne and St John. This full sized drawing is the early steps towards an altarpiece that unfortunately was never completed.
To help orientation, the general layout consists of North, East, and West wings, plus the most recent addition, the Sainsbury Wing. To access the building there are four main entrances, the Trafalgar Square entrance, the Sainsbury entrance, the entrance to the Educational Centre. And the Getty entrance which is step free, and also has easy access to the shop and cafe. Audio guides are available and are accessed via the main entrance. Seating is limited, so it has been known for visitors, especially those with walking difficulties, to take along a folding stool.