Are you looking for what to see and do in London and you are an art lover? Titian's Bacchus and Ariadne, Velazquez's Rokeby Venus, Van Gogh's Sunflowers, Rembrandt's Self-Portrait, Turner's Daring Fighter, as well as 2300 other paintings and frescoes are currently on display at the National Gallery in London.
Founded in 1824 with just 38 paintings, it became the true jewel in the crown with its remarkable representation of the best of the 13th to the 20th century on English soil. But what are its best works? In this publication I share with you the top paintings that you can't miss according to specialists, all organized by their year of creation. Let's get to it!
1. Arnolfini Marriage - Jan van Eyck - 1434
This masterpiece by Jan van Eyck is one of the most enigmatic pieces in the history of art. Rarely were full-length portraits painted in the 15th century, and this one depicts not one but two people: the "Arnolfini Marriage".
This is not just any portrait, it is a masterpiece! And with a busy history of travels, theft and looting, it was Ferdinand VII who recovered it and gave it to England. This painting has hundreds of interpretations of its symbolism and is one of the most convincing depictions of people of the time, in the bosom of their home, demonstrating Van Eyck's mastery of light and shade, as well as his meticulous attention to detail.
This painting is one of the jewels of the 30 most famous museums in the world and you can take a look at the work in room 28 of the National Gallery in London.
2. The Battle of San Romano - Paolo Uccello - 1440
Paolo Uccello was a Renaissance painter known for his use of perspective and foreshortening, as well as his ability to capture intricate detail in his paintings. This is evidenced by this work, one of the 100 best paintings in London according to TimeOut.
It depicts a battle between Florentine and Sienese soldiers. The Florentines won the battle, but Tolentino's horse was painted in such detail that it appears to be charging towards the viewer.
The three panels depicting the battle were supposedly commissioned by the Medici family, who held them until the last days of Lorenzo de' Medici in 1492.
3. The Doge Leonardo Loredan - Giovanni Bellini - 1501
This is one of the most important works of the Italian Renaissance. It was painted in 1501, when Venice was at the top of the European capitals and the Bellini conquered the artistic scene. This is a perfect example of the union between art and power of that period.
The painting portrays the doge or "supreme magistrate" of the oligarchy that ruled Venice. The man's features are immobile and reflect all-powerful Roman traits. Light animates the entire surface, especially the ostentatious damasks of gold and silver thread from the now Turkish land.
After a close look at the painting, one can appreciate the different layers of oil paint that make up its relief because for Bellini, the play of light and shadow was more important than form, as the German historian Robert Suckale notes in his book "The Masters of Western Painting".
4. Madonna of the Carnations - Raphael - 1507
This is one of the most important surviving works of this passage of Italian Renaissance art. The composition is inspired by a work by Da Vinci entitled "Madonna Benois", and the result is one of the 10 must-see works in the National Gallery in London according to the specialists of Art & Auctions.
In this painting, Raphael Sanzio depicts the Virgin Mary young and beautiful, with a relaxed expression as a symbol of her closeness to humanity. She wears an elegant dress with wide sleeves and a fur cloak over her shoulders. The Virgin's right hand rests on her lap and she holds a carnation or rosebud in front of her breast, which is why some know this painting as "The Virgin of the Roses".
5. The Virgin of the Rocks - Leonardo da Vinci - 1508
It is a mystical painting and there are two paintings with the same name. The first one dates from 1486 and is exhibited in the Louvre Museum. The second was painted a decade later and is exhibited in room number 9 of the National Gallery in London, being in the top 20 of the most visited paintings in the National Gallery in London.
According to the curators, the central narrative of the painting revolves around a pale-skinned Virgin who has just emerged from a cave, but there are two theories:
- The first points to the Virgin blessing humanity as she emerges from those walls.
- The second leans towards a more humanistic view following Plato's cave myth.
Which is the correct theory? Well, it is one of the many enigmas to be deciphered in the Da Vinci Code. And to this mystery is added the possibility that Giovanni Ambrogio de Predis, da Vinci's assistant, may have been the material author of the work.
6. Bacchus and Ariadne - Tiziano Vecellio - 1523
This is a stunning oil painting depicting Bacchus, the Roman god of wine, and his madness in search of his lost lover, Ariadne. The painting was created in 1523 for Alfonso I d'Este, Duke of Ferrara, as a commission for a series of frescoes and mythological paintings for the Camerino d'Alabastro.
Interestingly, while the amateur viewer is distracted by the harmony of color used by Titian, on the left side the skilled painter recreates the mythological origin of the Boreal Constellation, seeing that Zeus' wedding gift was to turn the bride's crown into this grouping of stars.
To see in detail this landmark of the art of the National Gallery of London, go to its room number 10.
7. Self Portrait - Van Rijn Rembrandt -1640
Van Rjin Rembrandt was at the height of his career when he painted Self Portrait at the age of 34. He was the most celebrated painter in the Netherlands and was rubbing shoulders with exclusive social circles.
The artist reflects a nobleman of high status, imposing character, vast wealth and the power of his artistic and humanistic gifts, although we cannot overlook the fact that fortune smiled on him after his marriage to his cousin Saskia. In fact, 29 years later, after Saskia's death, in his Self-Portrait at the age of 63, the imprint is far from the original.
Rembrandt was a specialist in portraying the traditions of high society, particularly in group portraits, and his contribution to Baroque art is acclaimed on the international scene, as confirmed by the famous sculptor Auguste Rodin, for example.
8. Venus in the Mirror - Diego Velázquez - 1651
Who is the woman in the painting? Experts have not deciphered the enigma exactly, but what is certain is that the work belongs to the Spanish master of Baroque painting, Diego Velázquez.
This oil painting seems to follow among its curves the personification of love. The Venus in the Mirror is the only preserved nude of the Sevillian painter and one of the most interesting paintings dedicated to femininity that was painted, perhaps, during the artist's second trip to Italy.
The artist was not interested in the face of this goddess when he advanced brushstroke after brushstroke through the "Rokeby", in essence it is the feminine beauty that he wished to portray. Admire this painting up close in Room 30 of the National Gallery in London.
9. Young Woman Seated before the Virgin - Johannes Vermeer - 1672
The translation of this painting is quite controversial, some call it Young lady standing before a spinet, others Young lady standing before the spinet, also Young woman seated before the virginal or Lady seated at the virginal.
This painting is an excellent example of Dutch Golden Age painting. The master of light and silence is known for his use of color, the serenity of his works, as well as working with light and shadow, as in this case, where he consciously reduced his palette to contrast textures.
Johannes Vermeer's most famous painting is "The Girl with the Pearl Earring", as well portrayed by Scarlett Johansson and Colin Firth in the 2003 film of the same name. However, this painting enters the top 20 most visited works at the National Gallery in London according to the gallery's report.
10. The Hay Wagon - John Constable - 1821
It took second place as the most beautiful painting in the National Gallery in London in a poll conducted by the BBC, although its history stumbled in its early days.
With an exquisite depiction of a scene between Suffolk and Essex, Constable makes it clear why he is considered one of the forerunners of Impressionism.
Despite his revolutionary vision and the gold medal he won in Paris for this painting, it was a centenary before the detail of Constable's work was appreciated, but you can enjoy it in Room 34 of the National Gallery in London.
11. The Daredevil - William Turner - 1839
This painting is a stunning example of Joseph Mallord William Turner' s mastery of light and color. The scene is a sunset with the backdrop of a sky so blurred that it almost seems like an illusion.
In the best Romantic style, this expert landscape painter records in his work the glory days of sailing ships, while recalling the end of their golden age. On the eve of the celebration of the 200th anniversary of the National Gallery in London, a survey was conducted to find out the best work of the gallery among critics and visitors, this was the winning painting and you can visit it in its room number 34.
The ship towed by the Thames is called "The Daredevil", and arrives at its destination to be scrapped after the battle of Trafalgar in 1805. The tugboat that tows it has a dark silhouette in the foreground, and its author does not intend to make an exact replica of the original, as the intention was to reflect the nostalgia and loss for the transition from the agricultural era to the Industrial Revolution.
12. The Sunflowers - Vincent Van Gogh - 1888
This is one of his three original works with 15 sunflowers in the world.
The still life of sunflowers is a curious painting, highlights the intense presence of yellow differentiating factor of the painter, as well as its structure and almost illegible signature near a delicate blue line, more typical of the craftsman who made the vase than of the co-founder of post-impressionism.
Vincent van Gogh, in his efforts to become a disciple of Paul Gauguin, created this series of paintings to impress him, although the story was quickly overshadowed leaving the father of modern art submerged in sadness and madness until the end of his days, at only 37 years old.