Posted by: Natalie | August 12, 2011

London Run-down: Art Galleries

View of St. Paul's Cathedral and Millennium Bridge from Tate Modern

We covered so much ground during our stay in London that it would be impossible to give detailed posts on everything – mainly because my memory is not a brilliant tool to be relied upon! We hit most of the museums and art galleries worth a look – even paid to go in some! I love the fact that London allows visitors to see the nation’s treasures for free, mostly. But my word, there’s a lot. After a week of visiting around eleven galleries and museums, one and a half cathedrals (only the outside of Westminster was seen due to phenomenally ridiculous queues), three shows, shopping and market mooching, I required new feet. And new knees. And hips. I am definitely not adverse to walking but my joints often have a difference of opinion! We avoided seeing palaces, gardens and Parliament – unless viewed by accident – because these don’t instantly appeal to us. Plus, these are the kind of things we’ve walked past and seen externally in previous fleeting visits to the capital. This trip was all about the places we had never been (or at least one of us had never been) and here I shall attempt to give you a quick, ranked tourist guide of places to see, starting with art galleries . . .

Art Galleries

  1. 'Ophelia' by Millais

    Tate Britain, cost: Free; I will always love the Tate, relaxing, calm and filled with such wonderful paintings displayed in chronological order so as to see the progression of art from medieval to modern day. Key works include obviously Turner, Van Dyke, Hogarth, Gainsborough, one of Francis Bacon’s Triptychs, Whistler, and pieces by the Pre-Raphaelites such as The Lady of Shalott and Ophelia. New for me however was taking one of the free tours of some of the master works the Tate holds. Around 45 minutes and incredibly interesting, charting the progression in art, the stories and symbolism behind some of the pieces and the historical context. A calm river side setting and a reasonably priced cafe (and restaurant if you fancy) make this one of my favourite galleries ever.

  2. The Courtauld Institute, cost: £6; I think one of the phases of art we are all acquainted with is that of the Impressionists. Having studied this group of artists a lot and recently watched the BBC series on Impressionism, it is something I know fairly well and always get a little giddy about seeing their key works. I had never even heard of the Courtauld Institute until it was recommended to us, so the novelty puts it at number two in the list! Works by Monet, Manet, Rembrandt, Degas, Renoir, Gaugin, Rousseau, Van Gogh, amongst others. Included in this was a temporary exhibit on Toulouse Lautrec. Some of the big names of the art world displayed in a small, but beautiful gallery as part of Somerset House which also houses much smaller exhibitions, some for free.
  3. 'The Haywain' by Constable

    The National Gallery, cost: Free; busy old place housing a ridiculous number of artworks. Rooms are set out chronologically but begin with a lot of art I am just not interested in – mainly because I have never studied it and am not entirely sure what it is I am looking at. I am not a fan of religious iconography and European Renaissance painting, just because it is too heavily laden with god and gold. It is too dramatic in places and too dull in others. So I would always choose to view this gallery backwards, start with the familiar and work backwards until your eyes can’t take in any more. Again, works from impressionists including in this case, Seurat and his pointilism theories. These works were far and away my favourites on this tour around. however, this is where Steve also understood the greatness of John Constable and other romantic painters – although, he has secured a deep mockery of Turner who he thinks might have been mentally deficient!

  4. The Royal Academy of Art Summer Exhibition, cost: £10; Well worth a trip for this, even if just to see the ridiculous prices some of the amateur artists expect to get for their work, or to get over angry at Tracy Emin’s latest ‘art’ contributions which cost the earth (she now simply writes a sentence as a child. wow). There are so many pieces to look at, so many variations on a theme, unique and wild and wonderful. Plus a lot of tosh as well, but incredibly interesting and has been occurring ever year for over 200 years now. There are a few famous artists on display in between the lesser known and the fun part, the vast majority are up for sale. So if you have the pocket book and the interest, you could get in on the ground floor with some up and coming future name.
  5. Queen Elizabeth I in the 'Pelican Portrait' at the National Portrait Gallery

    The National Portrait Gallery, cost: Free; So many stunning faces to look into portrayed in so many different ways and tones. Fascinating. Contemporaries stare back at you in quite dramatic ways (the BP Portrait Award exhibit was rather interesting) but my personal favourite section are the Tudor and Stuart portraits. Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, Charles I and II and their respective entourages. When you see painted images of the Tudor and Stuart monarchs, on TV or in books, these are the images you see. These paintings are unbelievably famous and yet I never really thought of them as existing ‘in the flesh’. But they do and they are remarkable.

  6. Matisse's Snail

    The Tate Modern, cost: Free; I am not a fan of ‘true’ modern art and although I was interested to look around Tate Modern, there was little that interested me. I did get over giddy to see Henri Matisse’s Snail collage in all its great size and also a Jackson Pollock painting but this was about it. There was no exhibit to see in the Turbine Hall although a pile of Ai Wei-Wei’s hand painted seeds does remain in a white room but surrounded by a safety line – cant go messing with porcelain seeds people! The Miro exhibit would have been interesting to me, but neither of us could justify £32 between us to see it. Stingy I know but I would rather put that money into something I KNOW I am going to enjoy!

  7. The Serpentine Gallery, cost: Free; Unless you like looking at that kind of art which is so modern it has no meaning what so ever, I would give this a miss. The current installation was a path/’maze’ made by corrugated cardboard leading to a mirror or two, supposedly depicting our inability to reflect on life. It may have been free, but dear God it was a waste of time!
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