Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Culture: National Portrait Gallery

Last Tuesday, Maxx and I went on a date day to the National Portrait Gallery. I've never been there before, even though my favourite painting is housed just next door in The National Gallery (if you wanted to know, it's The Execution of Lady Jane Grey).

I am obsessed with the Tudor period, so I was super excited to see that there was a special exhibition called 'Elizabeth I & Her People'. The tickets were £13.50 because we 'Gift Aided' them, and they were definitely worth it! Information about prices can be found here
As well as seeing some iconic portraits of Elizabeth I and the key courtiers from her reign, there were artefacts from the period, including a sword, pistol, sweetmeats case and jewellery. It amazes me the condition of these items, and I wonder whether they were discovered or handed down through generations. 

We also learnt that, as Elizabeth I didn't like having her likeness painted, a stencil was made and passed around for various artists to use. This explains the almost identical face in many of her portraits. 

Attributed to George Gower, c. 1588.

After the exhibition, there were thousands of other pictures to see. Literally, 195,000. Luckily neither of us are particularly interested in contemporary art, so we had more time to spend looking at paintings from the Tudor, Stuart, Regency and Victoria periods; aside from two breaks, touring the aforementioned exhibition and these areas took five hours, so I'm glad we didn't want to see the newer portraits! 

One of my favourite portraits is of Anne Boleyn, the classic image you think of when casually ponder Henry VIII's second queen and her dreadful fate. I remember painting her when I was in primary school, aged 10, meticulously copying every pearl on her headdress. It was really astounding to see that famous picture, those dark eyes looking out with an unreadable expression. Although I assumed it was Holbein, who was a popular painter at the time, the artist is actually unknown. Just as with Delaroche's painting of Lady Jane Grey, I found myself transfixed. Both their fates were gruesome and fearful, but Anne Boleyn's vilification resounds to me like an ambitious woman cruelly betrayed by Cromwell and her own husband.  

Unknown artist, late 16th century.
I think you can really see the likeness between Elizabeth I and her mother, particularly in the shape of the nose.

 Although I’m a fervent fan of literature from Regency period, I didn’t know a lot about it, so enjoyed reading the placards next to each picture of the important politicians and royals from this time. There were also the portraits of the key Romantic poets and writers, first and second generation, which meant I got to babble away to Maxx about who wrote what and why it was important. We lingered over Mary Shelley in particular, as I reminisced about all I had learnt about Frankenstein while writing my dissertation!

I will admit to being a little disappointed with the lack of portraits of Queen Victoria in the museum, although there were plenty of other influential figures to gaze upon, including Winston Churchill’s father. 

Aside from this, the facilities at the Gallery were excellent, and I didn’t find the food overly expensive. We had a drink and snack upon arrival, which was delicious: Maxx, being French, had a coffee and a croissant, while I had tea and an apple crumble slice. Yum YUM. The gift shops had an excellent array of postcards, so you can take your favourite picture home with you. Maxx treated me to a new book: The Anne Boleyn Papers by Elizabeth Norton, a collection of her personal dispatches and those of the people most involved in her short reign (1533 - 1536). 

This was a lovely, relaxing day out. We ambled at our own pace, viewing some masterpieces and stopping when we felt like it. I'd recommend it for anyone looking to have a civilised, quiet day out, away from the bustle of the capital.

The 'Elizabeth I & Her People' exhibition closes on January 5th, so get there soon!


No comments:

Post a Comment