August Special Edition: The National Portrait Gallery and The National Art Gallery

August Special Edition: The National Portrait Gallery and The National Art Gallery
Admiring the works of the National Art Gallery in London

Hello :)

Welcome to a special edition of the Magic Mirror Magazine on The National Portrait Gallery and The National Art Gallery in London!

I originally started up the MMM to curate my best offerings for online media (TV Shows, Movies, Podcasts) to keep one entertained whilst on dialysis.

However, we are not always tethered to our dialysis machines and I wanted to include special articles that included my excursions away from the island that is my bedroom! May you use these special editions as inspiration for your next annual leave days or weekends!

The National Portrait Gallery

The National Portrait Gallery is an art gallery in London housing a collection of portraits of historically important and famous British people ranging from the royal family to playwrights, inventors, poets, authors and musicians.

The National Art Gallery

The National art gallery is in Trafalgar Square, London housing over 2300 paintings from the mid-13th century to 1900 including world famous masterpieces like Van Gogh's 'Sunflowers', Turner's 'The Fighting Temeraire' and Monet's 'The Water-Lilly Pond'.

My Experience of the Day
I recently went to both of these National Galleries during the midweek in September as one of my annual leave days from work at the tail-end of a dreary summer. But by surprise, this city scape I had planned was being jeopardized by heatwave warnings across the UK with heights of a roasting 31C in the capital. Not an exciting prospect for fluid restricted dialysis patient!

Fortuitously, this excursion was really apt for the scorching weather because the great masterpieces that hang on these walls are treated to high quality air conditioning and temperature control! Hence, I highly recommend escaping hot summers into museums and galleries such as the National Art and National Portrait galleries and immerse yourself in the air conditioned and shaded rooms....I mean...centuries of culture.

I definitely lucked out on going midweek, post summer holidays so there was significantly less people in the rooms and not much competition for seats!

Now, by no means am I some art historian or have any high knowledge on the great masters of art but I have to say I absolutely loved my day walking around both galleries. It is a marvel to see the famous and popular pieces like Monet's 'Water-lillies' that are plastered over numerous merchandise in shops everywhere. There is something to be said about seeing paintings in real life that no print recreation can capture. I actually intended on purchasing some postcards of some significantly moving pieces I saw but they just could not capture the real beauty and essence of the art. I probably sound ridiculous but you really have to go and see for yourself.

So, I highly recommend even if you are not a great art lover, go have a wander through these galleries even for 1hr, and see which pieces move you!

I will say that the National Art Gallery was my favorite of the two as the pieces covered more landscapes and biblical or historical scenes which were on first glance a lot easier to connect to. Whether that be through appreciation of semblance of reality to the vivacity of colour or tasteful composition which pleases your eye.

The National Portrait Gallery ends up being a bit of a harder sell with the walls covered with heads of famous and notable figures throughout the years. It's more of a mental bingo chart of "Oh I learnt about that person in school and I read this person's book". I think if you're a bit of history buff, you would really enjoy this gallery a bit more! I believe the National Portrait Gallery constantly updates their exhibits to include popular cultural day figures with modern renditions of Ed Sheeran, Andy Murray, and even some photographs of Kate Middleton on her 40th Birthday!

My Personal Highlights (Wednesday 6th September 2023)

My decision to head to London to spend the day at the galleries was completely unprompted or planned. What caught my eye in the news was that the National Portrait Gallery had recently gone under a £40m refurbishment and I just thought it be quite nice to see what it's like now everything was 'clean and new'. I think that's one of the huge benefits of visiting a gallery is that there is not much preparation required, you're not going for a trek in the wilderness away from civilization nor are you really trying to maximize every minute of the day the way you might at a museum. Galleries are a much more relaxed and leisurely kind of day, which was totally what I was looking for!

On arrival, I ended up just wandering through the rooms without much knowledge and just read displays and looked at pieces that took my fancy. However, I did come across posters for Free Guided Tours! Jackpot! If you miss the signs, I HIGHLY RECOMMEND you just chat to one of the attendees, they all have Ipads with the schedules. No shadow of a doubt the guided tours really enriched the experience, if you enjoy a good documentary or podcast, these guided tours are excellent way to ingest and appreciate the hanging art.

This was the real highlight of visiting the National Portrait Gallery, the guide was incredibly animated and told the scandalous and frankly quite mad story of Queen Caroline of Brunswick marriage to the Prince Regent George VI (uhm the same Regent as Regent's Park!), the eldest son of the 15 children of the then 'Mad' King George V and Queen Charlotte. It was a fantastic story, with the guide jumping between the different paintings on the walls, plastered by all their 15 children and their lovers and their illegitimate children as we go on a journey to discover who is the next monarch of England. It was a engaging experience filled with immorality, comedy and tragedy but neatly tied up at the end with the birth of a daughter who will one day become Queen Victoria who did find true love with Prince Albert.

I wholly enjoyed this talk as it delved into an era of the monarch which is rarely covered in the pop-culture and probably for good reason for the reckless spending and debauchery which almost ended the monarch in its entirety! It appears to me that Queen Victoria ushered in the facade of an prim and proper monarch of "moral values".

In this way you can see, the National Portrait Gallery really benefits if you understand the historical gossip... I mean events... behind the figures we see on the wall. Hence, I highly recommend catching some of the guided tours!

I also had the pleasure of attending one of the tours at the National Art Gallery, which on the day I visited was run by member of the gallery who was an artist herself, which brought an interesting perspective on the analysis of the art pieces chosen in line with more composition and media construction of the work rather than just historical significance and background.

Our tour covered 3 paintings:

The Raising of Lazarus by Sebastiano del Piombo

I really appreciated the in depth analysis of this piece, as it is definitely one I would have completely walked past in its more dreary colour scheme and biblical allusions. However, the guide brought the painting to life and only spent a few moments explaining this is the story of Jesus bringing a dead man back to life namely Lazarus. It was quite a funny moment as I was more familiar of the Professor Richard Lazarus, the dodgey CGI monster from Dr Who episode: The Lazarus Experiment!

The big highlight and revelation that got an ooh and ahh from the audience was when she told us that the great Michelangelo was a good friend of the artis. I'm quite proud of myself that on hearing this leave her lips, I clocked the hand gesture of the central Jesus figure being incredibly reminiscent of that famous image in the Sistine Chapel between Adam and God, which so happens to have been sculpted and painted at the same time! It was really quite magnificent moment, when the guide revealed all these secrets of the painting!

English or French (?) by William Diptych

This was probably my least favourite of our guided tour as we explored a set of gold gilded panels depicting King Richard II alongside biblical imagery, where once again the presentation was more focused on the craftsmanship of the panels in its incredibly fine and ornate detail. Perhaps, I am one for more of mythology and iconography but it was interesting to listen on how the production of blue paint was made back in the day: the crushing of precious stones mined in Afghanistan Lapis Lazuli, it is that same biblical blue that you see the Virgin Mary always cloaked in.

Rather comically, the guide did almost an Amanda Priestly (Devils Wears Prada Moment) with the whole that blue paint from crushed stone inspired the blue used in modern day fashion and iconography. Purely because of how precious and expensive it was to obtain the stone. Brilliant.

The Kien Valley with the Bluemlisalp Massi by Ferdinand Hodler

This was one of my favourite pieces that I picked out in my inital walk through the gallery and it was a delight to hear more about it from the guide. It was one of the newer additions to the gallery and was highlighted as an exciting piece in its composition and colour for the time period. On reflection when you look around the gallery, I don't think I saw anyone else use the colours shown in that time period!

Even amongst the many other impressionists in that room, notably Van Gogh's shining 'sunflowers' and Seurat's ;Sunday Afternoon' on adjacent walls, this painting draws you in with the glittering hills of the Swiss Landscape and really stood on its own. The guide explained how the goal of the artist was to capture "the essence of the land" and I cannot believe it but he truly must have as from afar I had already mentally noted "oh looks like a Switzerland screensaver!".

The intensity of that green, yellow colour. I think what really drew me in because I had recently learnt of a colour called: Chartreuse. And that is exactly the word that came to my mind when I looked at those hills. It really is a beauty of a picture!

In Summary:

If you're looking for a relaxing day to spend walking and sitting in front of endless rooms of paintings, look no further than the back to back National Art and Portrait Galleries in Trafalgar Square, London. I highly recommend catching one of the free tour guides, even if that's all you do while you're in the galleries and maybe a quick zip around to catch a glimpse of the big hits.

I would say that if you're big in your biblical imagery, greek mythology and literary devices definitely check out National Art Gallery but if you're fresh out of a English Lit or History Class go check out the National Portrait Gallery. I have to believe there is absolutely something for everyone in these galleries, even if it's to find a pretty picture of a horse (Stubbs I'm thinking of you) or pretty landscape.

Whether it's to escape the blistering heat or just have another stop on your day out in London, I highly recommend checking out the National Art Gallery and National Portrait Gallery!

You can go for a cheeky dinner in Covent Garden too, that's what I did check out my members only post: Day Trip: The National Portrait Gallery and The National Art Gallery, including a downloadable itinerary!

Wishing you well on your journey, Lai

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IGA Nephropathy confirmed at 21. Crashed into End Stage Renal Failure at 23. Now, I share with the world my 3 years lived experience on Home Peritoneal Dialysis and Post Transplant Living 10/10/2023