May 29, 2016
Today we took a morning jaunt down to Trafalgar Square! Trafalgar Square has several statues commemorating the Battle of Trafalgar, including the most famous Nelson’s Column of Admiral Lord Nelson who is accredited with the British victory. The four corners of the square also have statues, one of which rotates from year to year as commissioned by the mayor. Trafalgar Square is often used for political demonstrations, which is encouraged by the British government.
Just off the square is the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery. The National Gallery contains over 2300 works that are separated into section by century, and then further divided into galleries based on subject of the painting. There are 72 gallery rooms in total. Each room is numbered and color coded for easy navigation.
Two highlights of the National Gallery were “Self Portrait at Age 34” by Rembrandt and “The Execution of Lady Jane Grey” by Paul Delaroche.
The Rembrandt, composed in 1640, was just 1 of 19 of his self portraits. In this particular image, Rembrandt chose to paint himself in the same pose as that of the portrait of Ludovico Ariosto, a famed Italian poet. Thus, Rembrandt makes a bold statement, that painters are of equal standing to poets.
“The Execution of Lady Jane Grey” was composed in 1833 and depicts the pre-execution of the Nine-Day Queen. Lady Jane Grey, sister of Catholic Queen Mary, was deposed just nine days of reign in 1553. She was imprisoned, along with her father and husband, on charges of high treason. The following year, upon the orders of Queen Mary, she was executed at the age of 17. The painting depicts Jane, a priest, the executioner, and two of Jane’s ladies in waiting. Jane is blindfolded and reaching downward for the executioner’s block. This scene is depicted on a wooden platform, when in reality, Jane was executed outdoors in the same location as the executions of Anne Bolyn and Cathrine Howard, both wives of Henry VIII.
Side note: so sorry for the glare on most of these pictures.
Other favorite works at the National Gallery included many original Monet’s, including “The Waterlily Pond,” Pissaro’s, Seurat’s, and Van Gogh’s. I spent a good deal of time studying impressionist paintings during my junior year of high school and quickly fell in love with that era of art. It was a very humbling experience to be able to see these works in real life. Among the Van Gogh pieces was one of his most famous works, “Sunflowers,” the fourth version. This painting was much more faded than expected, but this is due to the lack of preservation techniques used until Van Gogh’s works were appreciated.
Another highlight was “Virgin on the Rocks,” by Da Vinci, which I ran into quite on accident in pursuit of the aforementioned works. This painting was mentioned in the Da Vinci code, which I read over Christmas break, so I was immediately intrigued. This most fascinating thing about this painting is that there are two versions, each differing slightly in color, light, and content. The second painting is housed in the Louvre, and I hope to see it as well when I travel to Paris in about a week and a half. The London version was commissioned for a church in Milan. The church later sold the painting and it was bought by a Brit who brought it to London. The National Gallery gained possession of the work in 1880.
I also found the frames to be very impressive and just as beautiful as these prized works of art themselves.
After the National Gallery, we broke for lunch. I walked over to Leicester Square and got a cream cheese and lox bagel and a very chocolatey chocolate muffin.
We returned to Trafalgar Square for an afternoon at the National Portrait Gallery. I started my self-guided tour with a walk through the history of monarchs. All I could think when looking at these portraits is how austere and sad these royals look, and I was again reminded that money and fame do not buy happiness. Yet, the tone of these paintings fit in well with England’s grim and often bloody history. I was also surprised at how many of these British portraits I recognized, particularly because they relate to American history. I saw such depictions as Sir Thomas More, Sir Walter Raleigh, King George III, Benjamin Franklin, and George Washington.
Among my favorites at the National Portrait Gallery were those of Edward Landseer, The Royal Family at Buckingham Palace, Lady Colin Campbell, Anne Neagle, Princess Diana, and Kate Middleton.
“Edward Landseer” by John Ballentyne depicts the favorite painter of Queen Victoria. This portrait is relevant to today’s discussion because Landseer also sculpted the four bronze lions located at the foot of Nelson’s Column. Landseer modeled his statues after real taxidermied lions, so they are very anatomically correct.
Lady Colin Campbell, a journalist and socialite, Anne Neagle, the first actress to appear on the cover of Life Magazine, Princess Diana, and Kate Middleton are each British style icons in their own right, and it was lovely to see their joyful faces in the midst of such formal portraits.
After a long day of over 3700 priceless works of art, I took the Leicester Square tube sttion back to the hotel and was able to rest for a few hours before our evening activities.
Mia, Emily, Mickey and I went to Leicester Square for dinner and a mystery movie at The Prince Charles Theater. The mystery movie was an interesting experience, and I am glad for the opportunity. The movie was called Radio On. It was made in 1979 and had beautiful cinematography. However, there was about 0% plot line. I kept waiting for it to make sense, but it never did. The theater showed it in original celluloid, which I had never experienced before, so I was glad we went.
I’m back at the hotel now writing this blog. It’s time for bed. More art tomorrow at the Tate Modern Museum and an evening show, Doctor Faustus.