I read somewhere that London has somewhere in the region of 1,500 permanent art galleries, and I wouldn’t have a clue as to whether that’s a true number or not, but however many it is, it’s definitely a large number.
Some are big and some are small, some are good, and some no doubt are not so good, but art is very often a matter of personal choice. The problem for visitors who don’t know their Constable from their Hockney is where to go to see the best examples of what London has to offer.
One of the most well known, and deservedly so in my opinion, is the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square, and next door just around the corner in St. Martin’s Place is the National Portrait Gallery (NPG).
Whereas the National Gallery’s name is a bit confusing because it includes works of art from all over Europe, the National Portrait Gallery’s collection is of “the most eminent persons in British History”.
That statement seems to sum up the NPG for me. The paintings are more about the subjects rather than the artists. There are some great subjects, but that doesn’t necessarily make them great works of art. Now, I have to admit that I can’t even paint an outside wall, and the only thing I’ve ever been able to draw is a pint, so what do I know really?
There’s not too many famous artists that have put their brush on these canvases, but there is some interesting stuff here all the same. For me, most of it was on the second floor which is probably the best place to start if you’re the same as me and like to see some of the older exhibits. Portraits of Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, and Sir Walter Raleigh are just some of the earliest paintings exhibited here. Then there’s a host of scientists, war heroes, and poets, such as Isaac Newton, Lord Nelson, and William Wordsworth.
Dropping down to the first floor brings us to the Victorians with paintings of the Bronte sisters, Charles Darwin, and of course Queen Victoria herself.
There is some modern portraiture as well, but not as much as I would have expected somehow. No doubt they’re in one or two of the other 1,499 art galleries somewhere else in London.
I think it’s fair to say that the NPG plays second fiddle to the National Gallery next door, but I spent a good couple of hours in here looking at some interesting paintings from a British perspective, and not just because it was pouring down with rain outside.
When this gallery opened in 1856 it was the first portrait gallery in the world, and if you’re interested in figures from British history rather than the name of the artist, then you’ll find plenty to occupy your time here – and it’s all free.