Founded in 1824, The National Gallery in Trafalgar Square, London, houses a collection of more than 2,300 paintings dating from the mid-13th century to the beginning of the 20th century.
Unlike many European museums, the National Gallery’s formation did not take place by nationalising an existing art collection. Rather, it was launched after the British government bought 38 paintings in 1824 from patron of the arts, John Julius Angerstein.
The National Gallery was formed by its early directors, led by Sir Charles Lock Eastlake and supported by private donations of art work which make up two-thirds of today’s collection.
The building has undergone many changes throughout its long history and the current building is the third to house the National Gallery. Only the façade in Trafalgar Square remains the same, as the premises have expanded over the years due to the lack of space in the original structure. Renowned for its postmodernist architecture, the gallery’s Sainsbury Wing was built as an extension by Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi.
World War Two
During World War Two, the paintings were stored at various locations in Wales, including the university colleges of Bangor and Aberystwyth and Penrhyn Castle. A suggestion in 1940 that they should be moved to a more secure location in Canada for the duration of the war was firmly blocked by Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, who was adamant they would never leave British shores. He famously said he would rather they were stored in “caves or cellars”.
The gallery’s most famous exhibitions have included Barocci’s Brilliance and Grace in the Sainsbury Wing, showcasing the paintings of Federico Barocci who was one of the most talented Italian artists of the 16th century; Goya’s portraits; the works of Rembrandt; paintings by Picasso; Renaissance Faces: Van Eyck to Titian; the Gere Collection of Landscape Oil Sketches; and Michael Landy’s Saints Alive, featuring traditional sacred art.
Among its famous permanent pieces of artwork are Raphael’s Madonna of the Pinks; Titian’s Diana and Actaeon and Titian’s Diana and Callisto. Both Titians were sold from the Duke of Sutherland’s famous collection for a total of £95 million. Sir Denis Mahon also donated 26 Italian Baroque paintings.
The gallery continues to seek to encourage new artists and since 1989 it has run a scheme giving contemporary artists their own studio in which to work. They hold the position of associate artist for two years and at the end of their tenure, they are given their own exhibition in the National Gallery.
Record Visitor Numbers
A survey revealed that the National Gallery attracted more than six million visitors in 2013, a record number and one which saw it officially become Great Britain’s second most popular tourist attraction – beaten only by the British Museum.
Automatic Access assisted the ongoing refurbishment of the National Gallery. Working with the existing doors and making them automatic, the Sainsbury Wing installation remains in keeping with the façade of the building.