London’s National Gallery is one of the largest houses of art in Europe. It was founded in 1824, and at the time of opening, only displayed 36 paintings. Fast forward to 2019 and now you can experience over 2,000 of the greatest and most famous works from history, from practically every European school of art.
No trip to London is complete without giving the gallery a visit if you’re a big art lover. It’s also situated in a stunning area of the city, near fabulous hotels and transport links to the likes of the Park Grand London Paddington Hotel.
We’ve put together a list of eight of the most famous, influential and important works of art in the gallery that you must see on your visit, and make sure you book your accommodation early to take advantage of Shaftesbury Hotels Special Offers.
Venus and Mars – Botticelli
Starting with a classic that has been the inspiration for countless writings and other art pieces, this painting shows Mars – the God of War – asleep, whilst his lover Venus – the Goddess of Love – is wide awake. A potential take away from this work is that love conquers war, or that love conquers all (or both). Originally perhaps a piece of bedroom furniture (a headboard or part of some wainscoting, the backboard for a chest or day bed), this has a huge potential link with the Vespucci, due to the wasps in the corner.
Bacchus and Ariadne – Titian
Another grand piece depicted from ideals of ancient gods, this painting depicts the God of Wine, Bacchus, leaping from his chariot and falling in love with Ariadne. It’s one of the most famous paintings by Titan, and is part of a series in collaboration with Bellini and Dosso Dossi, which was commissioned by Alfonso d’Este, Duke of Ferrara, for the Camerino d’Alabastro, (Alabaster Room) in the Ducal Palace. In approximately 1510 they tried to include Michelangelo and Raphael among the contributors.
Sunflowers – Van Gogh
Far from being the only Van Gogh painting in the gallery, this is potentially the most famous and iconic. This is one of his four paintings of sunflowers, dating from August and September 1888. The various versions and replicas remain much debated among Van Gogh scholars. The wilting flowers were painted using a technique called impasto, which involves building up the colour using thick brushstrokes, particularly effective for replicating the texture of the seeds in the centre of the flowers. Van Gogh intended to decorate Gauguin’s room with these paintings in the so-called Yellow House that he rented in Arles in the South of France. Also, make sure you stop by ‘A Wheatfield With Cypresses’, which was painted in 1889 when Van Gogh was in residence at the St. Remy mental asylum.
The Japanese Bridge | Monet
Another breath-taking and beautiful painting that is easily recognised by art lovers and art novices alike, Monet is one of the most prominent artists to be featured in the gallery, and this is just one of his works there. Completed somewhere between 1919 and 1924, this has a special resonance with Monet fans and admirers, as it was painted towards the end of his life, when he was suffering from the increasing loss of sight. The result is the outlines of the bridge – located behind his house at Giverny – which are correspondingly blurred, but the painting is none the less striking for it. Monet intended to express what he called ‘the instability of a universe that changes constantly under our very eyes’, through the blended shades of purple and blue.
Bathers at Asnières – Seurat
Asnières is an industrial suburb north-west of Paris on the River Seine, and this work shows a group of young workmen enjoying their leisure down by the river. This was the first of Seurat’s large-scale compositions; he drew conté crayon studies for individual figures using live models, and made small oil sketches on site, which he then used to help design the composition. Some 14 oil sketches and 10 drawings survive from this period, and the final composition, painted in the studio, combines styles and information from both.
A young woman standing at a virginal – Vermeer
As with most of Vermeer’s work, the painting is undated, although the style of painting and the woman’s costume indicate that it is a piece finished towards the end of his life. The richly dressed lady, playing a virginal, stands in a lavish Dutch home with artwork on the wall, a fine marble-tiled floor, and locally produced Delft blue and white tiles. The two paintings on the wall behind her can’t be identified with certainty, though have been the cause of many artistic debates.
Self Portrait at the Age of 34 – Rembrandt
One of the most famous self-portraits in the National Gallery, this painting is closely related to a self-portrait etching made by Rembrandt in the year before – 1639. This portrait shows Rembrandt at the height of his career; presenting himself in a self-assured pose wearing an elaborate costume which was the height of fashion back in the 16th century. It seems as if Rembrandt refers deliberately to his famous predecessors in this portrait, and therefore places himself in the tradition of great ‘Old Masters’.
Doge Leonardo Loredan – Giovanni Bellini
The Doge of Venice – Leonard Loredan – (from 1501 – 15021) is depicted here wearing his robes of the state, in this very formal portrait. It features a special hat and ornate buttons, all of which are part of the official wardrobe. The hat’s shape comes from the hood of a doublet, known as a ‘corno’, which was worn over a soft linen cap. Venice had a particular tradition of painting formal portraits like this one of its rulers dressed in the traditional outfits, and this work is painted in the typical style of portrait busts that were very popular during this period.