05 Apr 2022

Visit the National Gallery: Our Favourite Paintings in the Museum

There is so much to see and do in London that you are simply spoiled for choice. With such an abundance of choice, London is bound to have something for you to enjoy. Although there is plenty to enjoy in London, this article will focus on what you must see when you visit the National Gallery.

The National Gallery is one of London’s most famous art museums. It holds a wide collection of art. As well as this, it is situated in the heart of London. This means that you can visit the National Gallery and be within range of numerous other tourism hotspots in London!

With the National Gallery being one of the most well-known and prestigious art museums in the world, it is no surprise that the artwork housed within is simply stunning! This also means that the National Gallery attracts plenty of visitors each year. Keep reading to discover what you must see when you visit the National Gallery.

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When is the best time to explore the National Gallery?

There really is no bad time to visit the National Gallery. No matter when you choose to visit the National Gallery, you are sure to enjoy your time. And don’t forget, as we’ve already covered, the gallery’s location means that it is easily accessible when you choose to visit London.

Bacchus and Ariadne

A painting of Bacchus with a pink blanket, who lays his eyes on the princess Ariadne. There are people in the background.
Bacchus and Ariadne is one of many mythological paintings at the National Gallery

This painting depicts the moment that Bacchus, the god of wine, discovers the Cretan princess Ariadne. Bacchus was otherwise known as Dionysus in Greek mythology.

Regardless of what name you refer to the god of wine by, the mythology remains the same. Theseus had travelled to Crete to defeat the Minotaur. While he was there he met Ariadne, who helped him to defeat the Minotaur. Having fallen in love, Theseus and Ariadne decided to sail back to Athens to be together. However, Bacchus had other ideas.

According to one version of the tale, Theseus had stopped on an island on his way back from defeating the Minotaur. Bacchus saw Ariadne and wanted her for himself. So he made Theseus forget Ariadne, and leave her behind.

Left alone and abandoned, Ariadne was initially afraid of Bacchus. However, he quite literally promises her the stars. Indeed, in one version of the story, he would go on to throw her wedding crown into the air. In doing so, he immortalised her in the sky. This is represented in the painting by the stars above her head.

The Judgement of Paris

Three naked women stand before two men, who look to be judging them.
Photo credit: The National Gallery website

The painting depicts the moment when a Trojan shepherd named Paris is tasked with deciding who is the most beautiful of the three goddesses. These are Minerva, Juno, and Venus.

The Trojan War is arguably the most famous war that took place in the ancient world. This is quite an achievement, as the ancient world saw an awful lot of those! However, although many people know the story of the Trojan War, the story of how it all came to begin is strangely less well-known. The three goddesses had all claimed the title of being the most beautiful. Jupiter (Zeus) decided that Paris should be the judge. This moment is captured in the painting.

In this particular version of the story, Paris was unable to decide on a winner when the goddesses were clothed. As a result, he asked them to disrobe. On the left, Minerva, goddess of war and wisdom, pulls her robe over her head. On the right, Juno, Jupiter’s wife, lifts her cloak to one side. However, Paris decides that it is Venus who is the most beautiful.

Although Venus acts surprised that she has won, the goddesses had all cheated. Juno had offered Paris wealth and power, while Minerva tried to win him over with wisdom and strength. However, Venus promised him the most beautiful woman in the world, and it was this that tempted Paris to acknowledge her as the most beautiful of the three goddesses.

Although both Minerva and Juno were slighted, it was Juno who was by far the most aggrieved. She commanded the Fury Alecto to destroy the Trojans. At her command, Alecto caused Paris to abduct Helen. Thus, the infamous Trojan War began.

Who knew goddesses had such massive egos?

The Fighting Temeraire

A painting of the HMS Temeraire, a large white boat, being towed by tug boats
The Fighting Temeraire depicts the final journey of the HMS Temeraire

The HMS Temeraire was an important warship in the Royal Navy. It was famous for its heroic performance in the Battle of Trafalgar between the Royal Navy and the combined fleets of the French and Spanish Navies. Yet despite achieving such glory, it was not immortal. The passage of time and technology eventually rendered the ship worthless, and the British government decided to scrap her.

With British supremacy established after Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo in 1815, most of the Royal Navy’s warships served no military function. Indeed, from 1820 the mighty Temeraire had been used mainly as a supply ship. By 1838, the ship was over 40 years old and had decayed to such a state that its only value lay in the timber it was made from.

Prior to its sale, the Temeraire was stripped by the Navy of all re-usable parts. This left the ship with an empty hull, and unable to sail under its own power. This meant that it had to be towed by tug boats to its final destination. It is this moment, this fall from grace, that is captured in the painting.

The Hay Wain

A painting of a river with a house on it and trees and grass either side of it. There's a man and a cart in the water.
Photo credit: The National Gallery website

The painting may not look remarkable at the outset, but this hides the truth. For if you were to close your eyes and imagine an image of what the idyllic English countryside looked like, we are fairly certain that it would look something like this painting.

The Hay Wain depicts a rural scene on the River Stour between the English counties of Suffolk and Essex. Such was the power of this painting, and the influence of the artist, that this area came to be known as Constable Country – named in the painter’s honour.

At the centre of the painting is a large cart, which is being pulled across the river by three horses. The left bank is in Suffolk while the landscape on the right bank is in Essex.

Despite now being revered as one of the greatest paintings ever created by an English artist, The Hay Wain did not achieve the status that it has since come to enjoy. Indeed, when it was exhibited in 1821, nobody put in an offer for it!

It may not be mythological or religious but is still a beautiful and thought-provoking painting nonetheless. We’re just glad that it eventually received the recognition it deserves!

The Supper at Emmaus

Jesus reveals himself to three of his disciples as they sit around a table.
The Supper at Emmaus depicts the moment that Jesus reveals himself to his disciples

The painting expertly depicts the moment when a resurrected but unrecognised Jesus reveals himself to two of his disciples.

After the Crucifixion of Christ, the disciples were left understandably distraught. They had looked up to Jesus as a hero and loved him dearly. Indeed at the Last Supper, all the disciples – bar Judas who had already left the table – agreed with Peter’s statement that “even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you”.

Three days after the Crucifixion, two of Jesus’s disciples were walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus. On the way, they met Jesus, but they did not recognise him. The disciples unknowingly told Jesus the story of his Passion. That evening, the disciples invited Jesus to join them for supper. At the table, Jesus took the bread and blessed it in the same way that he had at the Last Supper. The disciples realised the stranger was in fact Jesus, but he vanished as if he had never even been there.

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