From Canaletto to Constable, the National Gallery holds more than 2,300 works of art including some of the great masterpieces of European art such as Botticelli’s Venus and Mars, Monet’s Waterlilies, Renoir’s Boating on the Seine and Van Gogh’s Sunflowers.
The National Gallery is one of the most visited museums in the world and in London only the British Museum receives more visitors.
What to see at the National Gallery
The National Gallery is home to a collection of over 2,300 paintings dating from the 13th century to the early 20th century. By world standards, it is a relatively small collection but it is of a very high standard and a large portion of the gallery’s collection is on display to the public.
Paintings from the 13th to the 15th century include works by Bellini, Botticelli, Duccio, Dürer, van Eyck, Lippi, Mantegna, Memling and Uccello. Painting from this era mainly had religious themes although portraits and themes from ancient history became more popular in the 15th century. Highlights from this era include Sandro Botticelli’s Venus and Mars.
The 16th century saw the rise of the Renaissance and the gallery’s artworks from this period include works by Bronzino, Bruegel, Cranach, Holbein, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Titian and Veronese. The museum’s highlights from the 16th century include Titian’s Bacchus and Ariadne.
The gallery’s collection from the 17th century includes works by Caravaggio, Claude, Cuyp, Van Dyck, Poussin, Rembrandt, Rubens, Velàzquez and Vermeer. Highlights from this period include Rubens Samson and Delilah, Claude’s Seaport with the Embarkation of Saint Ursula and Velàzquez’s The Toilet of Venus.
The collection spanning from the 18th to the early 20th century includes works by Canaletto, Cézanne, Constable, Degas, Van Gogh, Goya, Ingres, Monet and Turner. The gallery’s highlights from this period include Seurat’s Bathers at Asnières, van Gogh’s Sunflowers and Turner’s The Fighting Temeraire, which is possibly the most famous painting by an English artist.
Temporary exhibitions at the National Gallery
In addition to its permanent collection, the National Gallery also hosts a programme of temporary exhibitions. Some of these temporary exhibitions may incur an additional entry fee.
Current and planned exhibitions include:
Take One Picture 2023
The Take One Picture exhibition (until 8 October 2023) is an annual exhibition where primary school students creatively respond to a selected painting from the National Gallery’s collection. This year’s focus is Claude-Joseph Vernet’s A Shipwreck in Stormy Seas. Celebrating youthful creativity, this exhibition reveals their unique perspectives and imaginative insights, emphasising their power to perceive the world anew. Free.
Paula Rego: Crivelli’s Garden
At the core of the Paula Rego: Crivelli’s Garden exhibition (until 23 October 2023) stands Crivelli’s Garden, a monumental creation inspired by 15th-century artist Carlo Crivelli’s altarpiece. The painting weaves tales of biblical women and folklore, an evocative exploration of female identity and strength. Rego’s art further delves into themes of body, sexuality, and violence, often stirring both challenges and contemplation, reflecting her distinctive fusion of provocation and emotion. Free.
The Frans Hals exhibition (30 September 2023–21 January 2024) showcases the works of Dutch Golden Age artist Frans Hals (1582/3–1666). The exhibition delves into Hals’ distinctive portraiture style and features 50 masterpieces from museums and private collections around the world, including The Laughing Cavalier, which is on loan from the Wallace Collection. £20.
Visiting the National Gallery
The National Gallery is located at the northern side of Trafalgar Square. It is only a two-minute walk to Charing Cross tube station and less than five minutes to Leicester Square tube station.
Admission to the gallery is free although audio tours cost £5.
There are 60-minute guided tours of the collection’s highlights every day at 11.30am and 2.30pm.
There is a lot to see here and most visitors spend between two and three hours visiting the gallery.