The National Gallery was established in 1824 when the British House of Commons voted to buy the picture collection of banker John Angerstein for the enjoyment and education of all. The 38 pictures in the collection were initially displayed in Anergstein's Pall Mall house.
Today, the National Gallery houses one of the finest collections of European paintings in the world, in a nationally important, Grade I listed, purpose built, central London building. Just as the building itself has been added to and developed throughout the years, so has the collection, with the works of art kept, numbering over 2,300.
In order to fulfil The National Gallery's objective of encouraging education, study of its works has always been encouraged and a vibrant education programme continues for the benefit of school children, students and the general public. Its insistence on free admission, good accessibility and extended opening hours helps ensure that everyone can benefit from the collection. The near 5 million visitors to pass through its doors in 2004 pay testament to the success of that policy.
The original gallery building was brought into existence when Parliament agreed to fund the building of a National Gallery in Trafalgar Square in 1831. This location was chosen as it was felt it would be as inclusive a site as possible, offering easy access for both the rich of London's West End, and the poor of London's East End.
Over the years, however, the gallery's collection expanded, partly through managed acquisition and partly through bequests, a number of which were very significant in number and quality. One such, The Robert Vernon Bequest of 1845, set the precedent for British works to be displayed offsite, such was the lack of space in the Trafalgar Square gallery at the time. When the Turner Bequest was then made in 1856, the 1,000 odd paintings that this brought to the National Gallery were also displayed offsite, in Kensington, alongside those works from the Vernon Bequest.
In 1890, the practical arrangement of British works being displayed away from the Trafalgar Square National Gallery building was made a more permanent policy with the offer from Henry Tate, a wealthy industrialist, to fund construction of a separate gallery to house the National Gallery's British works. This building, the Tate Gallery, officially became an independent establishment in 1954, and would go on to be as prominent a feature of British art as its parent, the National Gallery, is within European art.
Despite the creation of this separate gallery, the National Gallery site at Trafalgar Square continued to be expanded over the years, with five new galleries being added in 1907. The Northern Extension of 1975 then added twelve more rooms, all designed to make as much of natural light as possible. 1991 saw the addition of the Sainsbury Wing where all Renaissance works are now housed. This wing was financed by Lord Sainsbury and his brothers. Today, the National Gallery building is sufficiently large to hold 2,156 London double decker buses, in the unlikely event of that ever becoming a necessity.
The National Gallery provides a fascinating and enlightening day out. It offers very good access to great facilities and a first rate collection of paintings from across the spectrum of European works, some of the most popular being:
- Van Gogh's Sunflowers
- Botticelli's Venus and Mars
- Constable's The Haywain
- Rubens' Samson and Delilah
- Da Vinci's The Virgin of the Rocks
- Gainsborough's Mr & Mrs Andrews.
In addition to the permanent collection, there is a dynamic and varied programme of exhibitions to be enjoyed at the Gallery too, as well as initiatives to bring art to a wider audience throughout the country.
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Charing Cross Station (Entrances: Getty 210 metres, Sainsbury Wing 330 metres, Education 405 metres).
Charing Cross, Northern and Bakerloo Lines (Entrances: Getty 175 metres, Sainsbury Wing 290 metres).
Leicester Square, Northern and Piccadilly Lines (Entrances: Getty 460 metres, Sainsbury Wing 575 metres, Education Centre 355 metres).
Embankment, Northern, Bakerloo, District and Circle Lines (Entrances: Getty 450 metres, Sainsbury Wing 565 metres, Education Centre 645 metres). None of these stations has a lift.
Buses around Trafalgar Square: 3, 6, 9, 11, 12, 13, 15, 23, 24, 29, 53, 77A, 88, 91, 139, 159, 176, 453.
(Please note: many buses are adapted for wheelchair users)
Telephone TRIPSCOPE 08457 585641 or Transport for London, Access & Mobility, telephone 020 7941 4600.
National Gallery Postcode for SatNav: WC2N 5DN