Delays during traveling is to be expected, but it is always sad when it eats into the viewing hours of your next location. I barely had two hours to look around the National Gallery before I was herded out the door for closing. Still, I was able to see a good number of paintings between the 13th and 17th century and was amazed at some of the details in the painting. I ran out of time before I set foot in the green section (18th – 20th century paintings) so that’s one more reason to return to London some day! Here are some of my favorite pieces from the National Gallery:
The Toilet of Venus by Diego Velázquez
Sculptors and painters alike seem to have had a fascination with classical antiquity and mythology. This painting features the backside of Venus, goddess of love, with her son Cupid holding up a mirror for her. I thought it was an interesting choice to have sort of blurred faces for both of them. It leaves some room for imagination yet still leaves a bit of an impression. I liked seeing the color of her cheeks in the mirror and the cute little wing on Cupid’s back. I also liked that the painting has deep colors yet maintains a soft feel to it.
The Judgement of Paris by Peter Paul Rubens
The Trojan War has always been one of my favorite stories since I was a child. I still remember reading a picture book about the Trojan horse and being fascinated by the idea! Later on I saw the movie Troy and read the Iliad and found there to be so much more to it then just the Trojan horse. This painting is from the scene where Paris is judging the three goddesses Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite and having trouble deciding who is the most beautiful. The three goddesses offer a bribe and Aphrodite offers Helen of Sparta, who is known to be the most beautiful woman out of all the mortals. We all know what happens next!
The Annunciation by Fra Filippo Lippi
Breathtaking detail and shimmering gold had this depiction of the annunciation stand out to me more than any other. If you follow the link to see the painting on the National Gallery website, be sure to click on the magnifying glass to the right of the painting and zoom in to see the details! I especially loved Gabriel’s wings and flowers beneath his feet.
Christ before the High Priest by Gerrit van Honthorst
Powerful and perhaps one of the most complex pieces I saw within the National Gallery! There are so many emotions at play in this painting of Jesus Christ. The facial expressions, the eyes, and the look just express something beyond the scope of my writing. I think I could stand in front of this painting all day and not grow tired of it. The lighting and color are just amazing and everything from the clothing to posture speaks volumes. There is so much tension yet peace and understanding that creates this extraordinary.
The Arnolfini Portrait by Jan van Eyck
There were several paintings that surprised me by being bigger than I had ever imagined, but this painting surprised me by being rather small. I took a closer look and was surprised even further at the amount of detail. This is one that you’ll have to see in person for yourself, because it practically screams genius. The texture of the textiles and fur is unbelievable and everything element is expressed exactly the way it should be. Oh, and the mirror in the back? Mind-blowing. Absolutely mind-blowing.
Samson and Delilah by Peter Paul Rubens
Personally, out of all the paintings in the National Gallery, this one was the most meaningful for me. I had spent hours over this painting for a presentation back in college, so I immediately recognized it when I saw it in the gallery. It almost felt like I was seeing it for the first time because it felt different. I think scale can make a painting feel entirely different as well as the texture of the paint you can only experience in person. I envied all the art students living in London with easy access to the National Gallery. It must be incredible being able to drop by and sit in front of a painting after learning about it in school. For me it was more like a once in a lifetime experience!
I recently read somewhere that people don’t spend nearly enough time in front paintings and pass by to quickly in order to see the more famous ones. Personally, I think that famous paintings are famous for a reason and have higher priority as they usually don’t go on tour. I didn’t reach the Sunflowers by Vincent van Gogh in time and still feel like kicking myself for it! I found that I felt much better if I saw the famous pieces that I wanted to see and then let myself be pulled in by the unexpected afterwards. Time is a luxury when you’re traveling and there’s nothing wrong with wanting to see great pieces of art!
So if you can only stop by the National Gallery for a couple of hours or so, I recommend making a list of pieces you’d like to see before hand. You can look up the floor plan and the location of each painting through the National Gallery website. They have a list of 30 highlight paintings, but I think it’s always a good idea to make your own custom list to suit your personal preferences. Which paintings would you like to see at the National Gallery?