The National Portrait Gallery – all those eyes looking at me…

August 5, 2007 at 9:50 pm | Posted in General, London, National Portrait Gallery, Out and About, Travel | 1 Comment
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What better way to spend a glorious summer day than by going inside the National Portrait Gallery? Nothing I say, absolutely nothing. I would never even consider going somewhere more exciting like a beach. After all the fountains in Trafalgar Square constitute an excellent opportunity to cool down.

Once I’d managed to get to the Square (most easily accessible by Charing Cross or Leicester Square tube stations) I walked into the Portrait Gallery, located around the side of the Square slightly away from the entrance to the National Gallery. After getting through the crowds and listening to the busking violinist for a moment I walk into the main entrance. The Gallery is free, which is quite handy but I also put down £5 for an exhibit of Fleet Street photojournalist…photos.

Taking the escalators up you begin wandering through a gallery of the Tudor period (Elizabeth I anyone?) before moving through various periods of English history and its notable figures. Unlike other galleries each portrait comes with a small (or not so small) blurb about the person and where available the artist. I found this particularly useful in conjunction with the background of each period’s political, scientific and cultural achievements. While I can’t remember all of the featured people it was inspiring seeing their varied contributions to the development of English history. As you walk through I began to discern more readily the differences and changes in artistic style, fashion and frame design!

Unfortunately, after a while reading all of the bits and pieces began to eat up my time and all of the faces began to blur together. I tried to focus on the art and some of the stories as I progressed through each floor. The gallery closes at six, which was fortuitous as I hadn’t reached the final floor by 5PM.

You can also rent an audio tour although in this instance being able to read the aforementioned explanations should cover most of what you need to know. There are also plenty of tour guides who seem fairly informative about the pieces on display.

My principal fault with the gallery is the logistics. Entering into any particular section almost always results in backtracking. I don’t necessarily need a completely linear experience but for the most efficient experience I don’t need to see the same section again.

Overall, I found the portrait gallery interesting and an excellent chance to see different interpretations of notable English figures. The associated explanations provide a general overview of English history which only heightens the experience. Realistically, for those who find art less than invigorating, the gallery might not appeal to you but as it’s free and central it would be worth your while to do a quick whip around. On the other hand there may be something that catches your eye and draws you into the gallery as a whole and if that’s the case my only warning is to watch the time or you might find a few hours have been and gone.

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  1. Wish I could visit. Only been to National Art Gallery in Washington DC & NY Metropolitan Museum.

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