Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Afternoon of Art

For my last day in London, I spent it viewing the most amazing works of European art at both the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery.

On a gorgeously warm and sunny day (the weather truly has been magnificent and yes, everyone here really does talk about the weather all the time), I walked from Lincoln's Inn Fields to Trafalgar Square to first go to the National to see their collection of more than 2,300 paintings. The National is the perfect art museum for me because it covers my favorite periods of Western art - mid-1200s to 1900. The layout is chronological, though the galleries are not organized sequentially. Starting with the Renaissance greats, I saw works by Lippi, Leonardo's The Virgin on the Rocks, and one of my all-time favorite Dutch Renaissance paintings, Van Eyck's Arnolfini Portrait. Moving into the 16th century, the typical European Old Masters are represented by Titan, El Greco, and my favorite, Hans Holbein, which is represented by The Ambassadors. I spent more in the 18th and 19th centuries than in the 17th century with the Gainsborough's, Turner's, Constable's, Hogarth's, Renior's, and Manet's.

After two hours of art-viewing, I needed to rejuvenate. On a recommendation, I ventured across the street to St. Martin-in-the-Field's for lunch in it's cafe. Ironic that the church's name includes "in the Fields" considering it sits off of Trafalgar Square. However, St. Martin's used to truly be surrounded by fields when it was founded in the 13th century. The current 18th-century building was constructed by James Gibbs, a follower of Christopher Wren. The interior is adorned with Italian plasterwork and a huge mahogany and silver organ. The cafe is in the church's crypt with gravestones for Charles II's mistress, Nell Gwynne, among many others underfoot of the cafe's patrons. (By the way, the food truly was excellent.)

On to what is now my favorite museum in London, the National Portrait Gallery. The Portrait Gallery's collection is based on identity of the subject and not necessarily on who the artist is or the artist's talent. The works vary hugely in quality and have been organized by the subject and the time in which the subject lived rather than the time in which the piece was painted, like the National. Beginning chronologically with the Plantagenets and Tudors and ending with the current period, the portraits of royalty, artists, writers, politicians, scientists, musicians, and philosophers are presented. I spent two hours and still ran out of time (because they were closing and I spent too much time in the Tudor and Stuart rooms) so I wasn't able to see the modern portraits, such as this one of the Duchess of Cambridge. But I got to see my favorite portrait of Elizabeth I.

I love this museum not only because of the subject matter but because taken on a whole, the Portrait Gallery presents a visual map of the Britain's history. The historical actors depicted in these works of art have each influenced the creation of this unique nation.

Photos from the day can be found here.

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