London is that perfect combination that knows how to bring together travelers of all kinds ... even those passionate about pictorial art!
In this regard, the best place to visit is undoubtedly there National Portrait Gallery, the famous art gallery in the United Kingdom, located in one of the busiest areas of the capital, Trafalgar Square. Here is a guide to find out which are the most relevant works placed inside it, which sections are worth visiting, as well as giving you many tips about prices, means of transport to get to the museum and some historical information.
- What to see and how to visit the National Portrait Gallery
- Tudor Galleries
- th and th centuries
- Victorian age
- XX century
- The most visited work of the art gallery: William Shakespeare's Portrait Chandos
- Hours and prices
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- User questions and comments
What to see and how to visit the National Portrait Gallery
The picture gallery of the National Portrait Gallery houses some of the most famous portraits of relevant characters in English history, as well as photographs, caricatures and sculptures that constitute a historical heritage of great importance.
The exhibition space of the collection is divided into three levels which correspond to the three floors of the building, which houses more than 1.300 works. Their subdivision into the different levels is made on a chronological basis, passing from the Renaissance to the contemporary era. In particular:
- on the Second Floor there are the most ancient works, dating back to the Renaissance period, but also from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The two Tudor Galleries present are very beautiful, one of which is dedicated specifically to Queen Elizabeth I.
- The First Floor instead it houses works dating back to the Victorian age.
- The Ground Floor tells the events and salient episodes experienced by Great Britain during the dramatic period of the two world wars, and the following years (up to the 90s).
Below we analyze the various exhibitions in detail.
1 - Tudor Galleries
The Tudor Galleries, present on the Second Floor, are organized in different rooms: room 1 is dedicated specifically to the first rulers of the Tudor dynasty (including the famous Henry VIII), while rooms 2 and 3 are focused on the figure of Elizabeth I (daughter of Henry VIII and Anna Bolena, she was the most loved queen in the history of the country, as England experienced a period of extraordinary flowering under her reign). Among the most important works of the section, we point out in particular:
- the portraits of Henry VIII, Elizabeth I and Anna Bolena made by an anonymous artist
- Sir Thomas More and his family made by R. Lockey
- Shakespeare made by John Taylor
- Chandos portrait made by R. Burbage
2 - th and th centuries
The remainder of the Second Floor exhibition itinerary focuses on the post-Elizabethan period, therefore between 1600 and 1700. It is a very troubled period of English history, in which very different artistic and cultural movements alternate (Enlightenment and Romanticism ), but also civil wars, political reforms and the advent of the first industrial revolution with all the related problems. From this section, we advise you not to miss the following works:
- Portrait of Queen Anne by the German John Closterman
- Nativity of Giovanni Battista Pittoni
- Portrait of Isaac Newton by Godfrey Kneller
- Portrait of Robert Walpole by Godfrey Kneller
- Portrait of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart
3 - Victorian age
Moving to the First Floor, you will then find an entire collection dedicated to the Victorian age. Even though it was also a period of great prosperity and strong global expansion, so much so that England was considered the greatest empire in history, these rooms are perhaps not the most interesting of the entire picture gallery. However, we suggest you do not leave out some significant works, including:
- Portrait of Charles Darwin by John Collier
- Portrait of Charles Dickens by Daniel Maclise
- Portrait of Benjamin Disraeli (important English politician of the second half of the 1800s) by John Everett Millais
- Bronte Sisters by Patrick Bronte
- Portrait of Octavia Hill by John Sargent
4 - th century
Finally, the Ground Floor displays paintings, photos and testimonies concerning the most recent years of English history, those between the two great world wars and the present day. As this is a very rich part of the picture gallery, we suggest you do not skip room 33 which contains memorabilia and official photographs of the English Royal Family, but also room 32 known as the Balcony Gallery and rooms 34 to 41 dedicated to the Grand Brittany of the 90s. Among the most significant works, we advise you to see:
- Portrait of TS Eliot by Jacob Epstein
- Portrait of Winston Churchill of Sicket
- Portrait of Rudyard Kipling by Edward Burne Jones
- Portrait of Margareth Thatcher by Helmut Newton
- finally, the collection of historical shots dating back to the years of the First and Second World War
The most visited work of the art gallery: William Shakespeare's Portrait Chandos
It is probably the most famous piece in the entire collection, as well as the most important Shakespearean portrait in the world. Unlike many other works depicting the English playwright, in fact, it is said that the painting in question was made in the early 1600s directly live by Richard Burbage, an actor and close friend of Shakespeare himself. Preserved for years by the poet's alleged godson, the Portrait Chandos passed from hand to hand, before being donated to the gallery where it is still located (in particular, the painting is kept in the room 33 on the Second Floor).
Recently, the work has become the subject of a heated debate regarding the subject represented: according to some critics, in fact, the painted man (dressed in dark and with the earring on his left lobe), may not be the real Shakespeare. According to others, however, just the earring and the untied tie, symbol of the poets of the past, would prove the opposite.
Hours and prices
- every day, from 10:00 to 18:00 (on Fridays until 21:00). However, some rooms may close 10 minutes before the indicated closing time.
- Best time to avoid queues: despite being one of the most important and visited museums in London, you will hardly be queued in front of the entrance for more than a few minutes: in the English capital, the management of museums and other attractions of tourist interest is quite efficient and the queues are disposed of in the shortest possible time.
- access to the gallery is free, although a supplement may be required in the case of special temporary exhibitions.
Useful tips for visiting the attraction
- Get up early ... but not too early! In London, museums almost never open before 10am and queues are cleared within minutes.
- Buy the city card: although the National Portrait Gallery is free, we still recommend that you purchase the London Pass (for a stay longer than 24h), in order to take advantage of discounts and free access to many attractions, as well as special promotions in shops and restaurants and on popular Hop-On Hop-Off buses.
- Watch out for restrictions: Make sure you do not have food, water, umbrellas, backpacks that are too large or any other cluttered object with you that could impact the hanging works. Remember that you can leave everything in the changing room area, where you can find combination lockers.
- Minimum time: we advise you to consider a minimum of an hour for the visit, even more if you are a portrait enthusiast.
- Try the multimedia guide: inside the museum, it is possible to use the multimedia guide, which through films, comments on the works and much more will be able to bring you closer to the portraits in the art gallery. It is also possible to download an app on your mobile phone, in order to get around the structure even more comfortably.
- Don't limit yourself to the National Portrait Gallery: next to this museum, there is another world famous one, the National Gallery. It would be a real shame not to visit it, especially given the proximity: organize your itinerary in London in order to foresee a morning dedicated solely to these two museums.
Where is it and how to get there
- On foot: Trafalgar Square is one of the nerve centers of London, easily reachable on foot from many famous areas, although the great distances that characterize London do not always allow walking. From Picadilly Circus, for example, the square can be reached in less than 10 minutes on foot, while departing from Westminster it can take up to a good quarter of an hour. The same distance separates Trafalgar Square from the Royal National Theater - Get Directions
- By busIf you want to get around by surface transport, the sightseeing bus is a great way to get around London, taking in the sights along the way. As for Trafalgar Square, there are more than 10 bus lines that allow connections to the square at any time of day.
- By metro: the cheapest and fastest way to reach the museum is by underground, which in London is an efficient and punctual service. The nearest stops are Charing Cross (brown line) and Leicester Square (blue line). Although more distant, Picadilly Circus station (intersection point of the blue and brown lines) can also be fine.
Historical notes and curiosities: what to know in brief
Although the National Portrait Gallery is often overshadowed by the fame of the nearby National Gallery, it is nothing less than one of the 20 most visited museums in the world, so much so that on average more than 2 million tourists are registered annually.
The idea of creating a museum containing portraits of illustrious people of the United Kingdom was born from the genius of the English politician and nobleman Lord Henry Stanhope, who after entering the House of Lords managed to attract the interest of Parliament and Queen Victoria towards the project.
The first temporary exhibition was held in December 1859, at 29 Great George Street. The growth in the number of works exhibited but also in the number of visitors, however, soon forced the transfer of the museum first to the Royal Horticultural Society in South Kengsinton, and then to the Bethnal Green Museum. However, first following a fire and then due to flooding, in the early 1900s it was decided to specifically build a new building, resistant and suitable for the conservation of the works of the art gallery, built in Trafalgar Square behind the already existing National Gallery . The work was completed thanks to grants from the government and philanthropist Henry Alexander, who donated more than £ 60.000 to the museum.
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