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  • Writer's pictureBeyond the Canvas

The National Gallery turns 200

Fourteen years before moving to the iconic Trafalgar Square location, the National Gallery opened its doors to the public on 10th May 1824 at 100 Pall Mall, a building that was far too small and modest to accommodate a growing collection whose democratic ambition was to be ‘a gallery for all’. Unlike most major European museums like the Prado, the NG is not the result of the nationalisation of a royal art collection, but it was rather born through the will of the British Parliament. In 1824 they voted £60,000 for the purchase and public display of 38 paintings, part of the collection of the late John Julius Angerstein. There are now over 2,300.

The relationship between the National Gallery and the people of London is visceral, and that became apparent during World War II. At a time when the museum was officially closed and the collection evacuated to secret locations in Wales, former director Kenneth Clark organised daily piano concerts that were open to everyone. Myra Hess and other musicians played over 1,600 lunchtime concerts from late 1939 until the end of the war. In 1942, spurred by a letter written by a member of the public to The Times, Clark was persuaded to take one painting at a time out of storage and put it on display so that Londoners would have something to admire.

Happy 200th birthday to what arguably ranks as one of my top 10 happy places on earth. Here are a few of my favourite pieces (no prize for guessing what genre and period I prefer).

Andrea del Sarto

Portrait of a Young Man c. 1517-18


Portrait of a Young Man c. 1515-20


Portrait of a Lady (La Schiavona) c. 1510-12


Portrait of Geronimo Barbarigo c. 1510

Paolo Veronese

The Dream of Saint Helena c. 1570

Giovanni Bellini

Doge Leonardo Loredan c.1501-02

Palma il Vecchio

Portrait of a Poet c. 1516

Giovanni Battista Moroni

The Tailor c. 1565-70

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