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The National Gallery in London

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Calling all art enthusiasts! The National Gallery in London is a must-visit destination for lovers of fine art.

Turner, Titian, Raphael, Caravaggio, Velázquez, Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Michelangelo, Botticelli, Renoir… The National Gallery showcases the crème de la crème of painting from the mid-13th century to 1900. In short, you’re sure to fall in love!

The National Gallery At A Glance (history, key facts…)
Exploring the National Gallery (tour route, collections, must-see masterpieces)
Practical Information (getting there, visit duration, opening hours, tickets, guided tours)

💡 The Captain’s Tips 💡

Want to know more about the history of London? Captain Ulysses highly recommends this free guided tour of the capital. The tip you leave is entirely up to you!

Looking for a hotel in London? Be sure to check out the Captain’s article: Where to stay in London? Tips & Recommendations.

The National Gallery At A Glance

A Brief History of the National Gallery

The Origins of the National Gallery

Despite several missed opportunities—where the British Parliament repeatedly declined to purchase private collections—the National Gallery was finally established in 1824.

The acquisition of 38 works from the collection of businessman John Julius Angerstein was made possible by the repayment of a war debt from Austria.

Initially, the National Gallery was housed in Angerstein’s former residence at 100 Pall Mall.

The National Gallery Relocates

It quickly became evident that 100 Pall Mall was too small to accommodate the growing number of visitors.

In 1832, English architect William Wilkins was commissioned to design a new building at the intersection of Charing Cross and Trafalgar Square, strategically located between an affluent and a working-class neighborhood.

This new edifice, which still houses the National Gallery’s collections today, has been expanded several times over the years.

Late 19th Century – Early 20th Century
Expanding Collections

Over the following decades, the museum’s collections grew significantly, largely thanks to bequests from generous private donors.

The National Gallery also acquired notable works, such as Hans Holbein the Younger’s “The Ambassadors.”

In 1951, painter William Turner bequeathed his studio to the nation.

The National Gallery During World War II

During World War II, the museum moved its collections to Wales to protect them from German bombings.

The empty National Gallery premises were used to boost public morale, hosting concerts and art exhibitions throughout the war.

Since 1945
Private Donations and Fundraising Campaigns

Since the end of the war, the National Gallery has continued to expand its collections, thanks to private donations and fundraising campaigns.

In the 1980s, John Sainsbury, chairman of the Sainsbury’s supermarket chain, made a significant donation that funded the construction of a new wing: the Sainsbury Wing.

Bicentenary of the National Gallery

The year 2024 marks the bicentenary of the National Gallery. To celebrate its 200th anniversary, the museum is hosting a plethora of unmissable events. For more information, click here.

National Gallery - London

The National Gallery by the Numbers

  • 200 Years of History (opened in 1824)
  • A Permanent Collection of 2,300 Paintings dating from the Middle Ages to 1900
  • Two-Thirds of the Paintings in the museum have been acquired through private donations
  • Over 5 Million Visitors annually

The National Gallery, Tate Britain, and Tate Modern

London is home to several major fine art museums, including the National Gallery, Tate Britain, and Tate Modern. Which one should you visit? It depends on your preferences. In true pragmatic fashion, the English have implemented a clear division of responsibilities:

  • The National Gallery is primarily dedicated to European art from the Middle Ages to the present day. It does feature a few works by English artists, mainly Turner and Gainsborough.
  • Tate Britain exclusively houses national works dating from the Renaissance to the end of the 19th century.
  • Tate Modern showcases all artworks created after 1900.

Visiting the National Gallery

Now that you’re well-versed in the history of the National Gallery, it’s time to explore the museum’s priceless collections. Follow the guide!

National Gallery London

Tour Route

The National Gallery’s artworks are displayed chronologically, inviting visitors to follow the evolution of European art through the centuries.

The museum is organized into several sections, each identified by a color code to help visitors easily navigate the space.

Rooms 1 to 8 (Red): These rooms feature works from the 13th to the 15th century, including masterpieces by Italian Renaissance artists like Giotto, Botticelli, and Leonardo da Vinci.

Rooms 9 to 14 (Orange): Here you’ll find paintings from the High Renaissance and early Baroque periods, with works by Raphael, Titian, and Veronese.

Rooms 15 to 32 (Yellow): These rooms cover the following centuries, showcasing masterpieces by Rembrandt, Rubens, and 17th-century Flemish and Dutch artists.

Rooms 33 to 46 (Green): Exhibited here are works from the French and Spanish classical periods, featuring artists such as Poussin, Claude Lorrain, and Velázquez.

Rooms 47 to 66 (Blue): This section includes paintings from the 18th to early 19th centuries, with notable works by Goya, Turner, and Constable.

Rooms 67 to 87 (Purple): These rooms display works from the 19th century to the Impressionist period, highlighting artists like Monet, Van Gogh, and Cézanne.

The National Gallery Collections

With over 2,300 paintings dating from the Middle Ages to the present day, the National Gallery offers an impressive overview of European art through the ages.

From early Italian masters to great Flemish and Dutch artists, and French Impressionists, the museum’s collections are remarkable for their quality and diversity.

National Gallery London - Van Gogh's Sunflowers

You’ll get to discover:

Italian School:
Renaissance: The National Gallery showcases works by Giotto, Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Michelangelo, and Titian.
Baroque: Admire masterpieces by Caravaggio, Guercino, and Guido Reni.

Flemish School: Discover paintings by masters such as Jan van Eyck, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Rubens, and Van Dyck.

Dutch School: The museum features works by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Frans Hals, and Jan Steen, illustrating the Dutch Golden Age of painting.

French School: Visitors can admire works by Nicolas Poussin, Claude Lorrain, Watteau, and Ingres. The Impressionist period is also well-represented with paintings by Monet, Seurat, and Renoir.

Spanish School: The museum highlights painters such as Velázquez, Murillo, and Goya.

British School: While most of London’s British collections are housed at Tate Britain, the National Gallery boasts a fine collection of works by Turner, Constable, Gainsborough, and Reynolds.

👨‍🎨 Must-See Masterpieces at the National Gallery 👨‍🎨

Short on time for your visit? Don’t miss these must-see highlights:

  • The Arnolfini Portrait — Jan van Eyck
  • The Ambassadors — Hans Holbein the Younger
  • Sunflowers — Vincent van Gogh
  • Venus and Mars — Sandro Botticelli
  • The Virgin of the Rocks — Leonardo da Vinci
  • The Entombment — Michelangelo
  • The Supper at Emmaus — Caravaggio
  • The Rokeby Venus — Diego Velázquez
  • The Fighting Temeraire — J.M.W. Turner
  • Bathers at Asnières — Georges Seurat
National Gallery London - Turner

Temporary Exhibitions

The National Gallery also hosts thematic temporary exhibitions (with an admission fee) that invite visitors to immerse themselves in the world of a particular artist or explore a specific art movement.

For more information on current exhibitions, click here.

Gourmet Break at the National Gallery in London

Feeling hungry after all that art appreciation? Head to one of the three dining spots at the National Gallery:

  • Ochre: A cocktail bar and restaurant offering modern, high-end cuisine.
  • Muriel’s Kitchen: A self-service restaurant.
  • Espresso Bar by Muriel’s: A café perfect for a hot drink and a slice of cake.

Visitor Tips

Getting to the National Gallery in London

Make your way to Trafalgar Square! The National Gallery is located in the heart of the capital, just a stone’s throw from Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square, Covent Garden, and Chinatown.

The nearest public transport options are:

  • Bus: Trafalgar Square / Charing Cross Station stop: routes 3, 6, 9, 12, 13, 15, 23, 24, 29, 88, 139, 159, 176, 453
  • Tube:
    • Charing Cross Station: Bakerloo and Northern lines
    • Embankment Station: Bakerloo, Circle, District, and Northern lines
  • Train: Charing Cross Station

🚌 Hop-On Hop-Off Tourist Buses 🚌

Hop-on hop-off tourist buses (with multilingual audio guides) also stop near the National Gallery.

These buses are a convenient way to explore the city in the open air if you prefer not to walk or use the London Tube. They’re also a practical option when visiting London with young children!

For more information: hop-on hop-off tourist buses

How Much Time Should You Set Aside to Visit the National Gallery in London?

It’s hard to give a precise answer to this question as it depends on your priorities and the time you have available. If you’re in a rush and only want to see the most iconic paintings, plan for at least an hour.

If you prefer to take your time, allocate 3 to 4 hours to fully explore the National Gallery.

National Gallery Opening Hours

The National Gallery is open every day of the week:

  • Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday: 10 AM to 6 PM
  • Friday: 10 AM to 9 PM

The museum is closed from December 24th to 26th and on January 1st.

Tickets for the National Gallery in London

Great news: admission to the National Gallery is free! That’s one more reason not to miss out on visiting this beautiful art museum, right?

Guided Tours of the National Gallery

To make sure you don’t miss any of the treasures housed in the National Gallery, why not consider a guided tour of this famous London museum?

Captain Ulysses recommends several options depending on your preferences and budget:

👉 Skip the lines: book your tickets and visits in advance!

👉 Find the perfect place to stay in London!

👉 Looking for recommendations? Here are all of Captain Ulysses’ top tips for London!

🛏️ Accommodation: Hotels.com + Captain Ulysses’ detailed article: “Where to Stay in London?”

🎟️ Activities: GetYourGuide | Civitatis | Tiqets.

🎫 Citypasses: London Explorer Pass | London Pass

🚐 Transfers : Airport transfers

🚌 Local Transportation: Hop-on hop-off buses (with audio guide)

✈️ Getting to London: by plane: Skyscanner | by train : Eurostar

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