previously posted on my blog Abroad in London
as a weekly update for family and friends
I’d become so wrapped up in work and routine that I’d forgotten what an amazing city I live in. After 3 weeks of working at the Royal Exchange I had casually written it off as nothing more than an office building. I see Russell Square, the Bank of England and Holborn every day and barely bat an eyelash.
I stopped myself, the other day, walking into the Royal Exchange. I stepped back and gazed upon the grand old building and it all came back to me. That feeling of beauty and amazement when I look upon the building came straight back to me. I work here! (Yes and I need to upload pictures soon too. Perhaps tonight.) Then on the way home I stopped off at Russell Square, instead of Holborn, and walked through the garden. I live here! There’s nothing like taking the time to enjoy everything that’s around you. Routine is helpful but actually appreciating the beauty, the grandeur and the brilliance of the Royal Exchange or Russell Square can’t be forgotten.
Now that I was back in the saddle as an architecture and history loving human it was only fitting that I go visit a tourist attraction. Luckily for me my friend from work, Ainura, was looking for the same exact thing and we chose Sunday to be our day of enlightenment. (And since have agreed… that every Sunday we’ll do something together that pertains to the city, history and culture.)
But where do you begin?
Truth be told I’d only seen one museum since I’d gotten to town. I mean I’d done the sightseeing at the various squares (Trafalgar, Leicester, etc.) and I’d taken a bus tour to take in the grandness of the city but as far as museums went I’d only visited the British Museum. So we talked and I remembered I’d heard wondrous things about the National Gallery – an art museum. Ainura and I made that our destination.
Let me give you the basic uninspired information on the National Gallery: It was founded in 1824 and is home to 2300 paintings that range from about 1200 to 1900. The building is right in the heart of Trafalgar Square and is beautifully designed. Unlike the majority of London museums it is free entry with a donation request of £3.
Ainura and I arrived at the National Gallery Sunday morning and we were given a little surprise. There would be an Indian festival in Trafalgar Square that afternoon. We entered the building (no photography of the inside or paintings much to my dismay) and wondered where to begin. We toured the museum in a very disjointed manner – starting in 1600 and working through to 1900 and back again to 1200. I know it makes little sense but we were just touring and browsing.
What struck me the most about the National Gallery is that I was really more enamored of the non famous work than that of the famous. Except, of course, when I saw the Botticelli piece for Venus and Mars. As a lover of Greek Mythology this really took me in. The other remarkable thing about Venus and Mars, that Ainura and I both noted, was that Venus was depicted as beautiful. Many of the women in the other paintings from the same time period wouldn’t be called beautiful in modern time – we wondered if this was a fair portrayal of these women or if it had something to do with what was seen as beautiful. Anyways… long story short… Venus was gorgeous. Oh… and there was a little faun sitting just behind Mars that completely captured our attention – for the very odd look on his face!
I wish I’d taken notes on all the lesser known paintings that I fell in love with. I didn’t and I’m sorry. But there was one that caught both of our attention. I think we stared at it for a good 10 minutes. The piece was exquisite. It was a painting of a room. All along the room were paintings as well. There were windows, a desk, a globe and several people. The room was a dream room but I was taken in. Each painting within the room was a detailed painting. The globe was detailed. The windows were perfect geometric shapes.
The people had expressions and were detailed. Mind you… this painting originated in the 1600s! I can’t even begin to convey how beautiful it was.
Other of the “famous” paintings to remark on: Bacchus and Ariadne (Titian) was amazing as well. Very well done. The Ambassadors (Holbein). We approached the Ambassadors from the left and I looked at the painting and looked at the ground and wondered, out loud, what the heck was portrayed on the rug. I read the description… moved to the right… and noticed that what I’d been staring at from the left was a distorted skull that could only be viewed (because of visual imagery) from the right. A very peculiar piece but a must see anyways. Sunflowers (Van Gogh) is less impressive than I had expected.
Of course I’m still dying to see Starry Night. Monet in general was fabulous and I enjoyed those, along with Cezanne (who I’d seen in Paris and fell in love with). The final painting, which was famous, but I can’t remember the name of the painter… was a couple standing in the picture frame for a portrait. They were interesting enough on their own but there’s a mirror between them/behind them and you can see 2 more people in the mirror as they wave to those in the portrait. Very interesting!
I would highly suggest that anyone in London visits the National Gallery. It was a wonderful and interesting afternoon. As far as the Indian festival goes – it was interesting to watch but we didn’t stay long.