I have just come back from 10 days in London and am suffering from a kind of cultural overload. I know that there are many great art galleries in the world containing some wonderful art, but after spending a few days in London it is hard to believe that all the very finest art in this world isn’t housed within a few square miles in central London. I only visited the National Gallery, the Tate (both Modern & Britain), the Wallace Collection and the British Museum. There are plenty more that I missed this time around, the National Portrait Gallery, the Royal Academy, the Victoria & Albert. But in those that I did visit (I spent 5 hours in the National Gallery and still only did the Cook’s tour) I saw paintings from Van Eyck to Van Dyck to Van Gogh. I saw some of the finest Fragonards at the Wallace and all the important Constables at the NG.
One thing that struck me was the huge variation in size of some of these masterpieces. Viewing art in books there can really be little size variation from one print to the next. When you see a painting like Van Dyck’s portrait of Charles 1, mounted and in full armour, it is nearly life size! Then in another room there is a self portrait of van Eyck that is only about 8″X10″. Viewed side by side in an art book they would seem to be about the same size.
The other delightful thing about seeing original paintings is of course the texture, which is lost in reproduction.
The Van Goghs are of course in high relief, but the Constables are also really quite radiant with many tiny highlights achieved with the use of a palette knife.
The Brits have returned to their old practise of free admission to art galleries and museums, for which I am truly grateful. I believe that it is working out well, as they are making as much money from the restaurants and gift shops as they ever did from entrance fees. Take heed Mr Harper!