The art you must see to celebrate the National Gallery’s 200th anniversary

Posted on

Did you know that the National Gallery turns 200 this year?

Originally founded in 1824, the museum in Trafalgar Square, London houses an impressive collection of over 2,300 paintings. Displaying art from the mid-13th century to 1900, it’s home to many famous paintings that people travel across the world to see.

Whether you’re a London local or a tourist excited to see the best culture our capital city has to offer, here are 10 masterpieces that you must see at the National Gallery.

1. ‘Virgin of the Rocks’ by Leonardo da Vinci

Created around the 1400s, the beautiful oil painting depicts the Virgin Mary with Saint John the Baptist, Christ’s cousin, and an angel.

Da Vinci originally produced the painting as part of a large, elaborate altarpiece made for the church of San Francisco Grande in Milan. The sculpted parts of the altarpiece are now lost, but two versions of this painting remain, one in London and the other in the Louvre in Paris.

2. ‘Samson and Delilah’ by Peter Paul Rubens

Rubens’ famous painting portrays a tragic Bible story from the Old Testament. Delilah has been bribed to discover the secret of her lover Samson’s supernatural strength. The painting shows the moment after he reveals the source of his power, where Delilah signals her accomplice to cut his hair and leave him powerless.

3. ‘Bathers at Asnières’ by Georges Seurat

This huge painting was Seurat’s first major composition and depicts several men and boys relaxing on the banks of the Seine at Asnières and Courbevoie, an industrial suburb north-west of central Paris.

He painted it before he turned 25 in the hopes it would be displayed during the official Salon in the spring of 1884, but it was rejected.

4. ‘Sunflowers’ by Vincent van Gogh

Arguably one of van Gogh’s most famous paintings, the ‘Sunflowers’ on display at the National Gallery is one of five versions available around the world, which he painted to decorate his house in Arles in preparation for his friend and fellow artist, Paul Gauguin, to visit.

Van Gogh once declared that “the sunflower is mine,” and it certainly proved true, with ‘Sunflowers’ among his most iconic and best-loved works.

5. ‘The Ambassadors’ by Hans Holbein the Younger

‘The Ambassadors’ depicts Jean de Dinteville and his close friend, Georges de Selve, Bishop of Lavaur.

Holbein painted it at a time of religious upheaval in Europe after Henry VIII broke apart from the Roman Catholic Church due to the pope refusing to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, which is why the painting is packed with clever religious references.

6. ‘The Arnolfini Portrait’ by Jan van Eyck

One of the most famous and intriguing paintings in the world, ‘The Arnolfini Portrait’ depicts a richly dressed man and woman – likely Giovanni di Nicolao di Arnolfini, an Italian merchant working in Bruges, and his wife – standing in a private room.

But on closer inspection, you can start to notice inconsistencies. Although it looks like van Eyck painted a real room exactly as he saw it, every object has been carefully chosen to proclaim the couple’s wealth and social status without risking criticism for mocking the aristocracy.

7. ‘Bathers at La Grenouillère’ by Claude Monet

During the summer of 1869, Monet and Renoir painted together at La Grenouillère, which is close to Paris. Monet made several oil sketches at the resort, including this picture, which were painted quickly without any attempt to clean them up.

The directness and immediacy of the paintings which couldn’t be achieved in an art studio is believed to have been an important step forward for the impressionism movement.

8. ‘Bacchus and Ariadne’ by Titian

Bacchus and Ariadne’ is one of the most famous paintings on display in the National Gallery. It illustrates a classical story told by the Roman poets Ovid and Catullus.

The Cretan princess Ariadne has been abandoned on the Greek island of Naxos by Theseus, whose ship sails away in the distance. Bacchus, god of wine, falls in love with her at first sight and throws her crown into the air, immortalising her as the constellation Corona Borealis, represented by the stars above her head.

9. ‘Surprised!’ by Henri Rousseau

The first of around 20 jungle-themed paintings Rousseau produced, ‘Surprised!’ depicts a tiger lurking in foliage, either ready to pounce or startled by the lightning above. However, on closer inspection, you may recognise the plants in the painting.

Rousseau never left France, so his jungle is made up of domestic house plants and tropical varieties he saw at the Botanical Garden in Paris. But despite the many criticisms Rousseau faced, he is still credited as the pioneer of “naïve art”.

10. ‘An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump’ by Joseph Wright of Derby

An audience gathers around a lecturer to watch an experiment: a white cockatoo is trapped in a glass container from which the air is being pumped to create a vacuum.

As the largest and most ambitious painting in the “candlelight” series that Wright created during the 1760s, his focus was on the viewer’s different reactions, from the girl unable to watch to the lovers gazing into each other’s eyes.

We aim to keep our clients up to date on interesting and relevant financial news.

You can sign-up to receive our monthly newsletter by email, even if you’re not yet a client. Sign-up using the form below.

Client testimonials

I have always found Black Swan to be caring and understanding of my quirky lifestyle. I always feel they try to get me the best returns while respecting my current needs.

Sally Muir

A client since 2011

We would be very happy to recommend the support and service we receive.

Valerie Locks

A client since 2010

I have always been completely useless regarding finance - thankfully our financial adviser is not! I've retired with far more than I ever expected and investments continue to grow safely. So - thank you!

Bernadette Jane Warner

A client since 2000

Very happy with the professional service I have received and feel a lot happier now with my finances put in order.

Martin Field

A client since 2011

Julie Cooper was recommended to me by a work colleague. She has been very helpful, professional and has explained everything well. I would definitely recommend her services to anyone else who are interested in a financial review.

Steven Rooke

A client since 2018

…Service has been first class.

Hugh Fells

A client since 2012

My face to face meetings with Rob Young and Jessica Lyons have always been very open and understandable. My questions have been answered clearly and I have left feeling that my financial matters are in good hands.

Sandra Jack

A client since 2000

[A] safe pair of hands in a complex financial world.

Gary Middlehurst

A client since 2003

A reliable company with good communication skills and good knowledge of the financial markets.

Alan Evetts

A client since 2014

Maureen Pembridge is a long-time trusted advisor to our family. The market might fluctuate but her attention to detail is consistent.

Linda Burnard

A client since 2000

I am pleased to recommend Julie as a trustworthy financial advisor. She explains financial jargon in plain language, and always listens carefully to my particular financial needs and has helped me make the best of my savings.

Carolann Samuels

A client since 2010

I have always been satisfied with the way that Black Swan has handled my account. And I have always found the staff very helpful whenever I need to call the office.

Robert Anthony Matthews

A client since 2012

An excellent personal service from a person I know and trust.

Michael Dalton

A client since 2010

I am getting a very good services from Black Swan, they have got my investments sorted out which was in a bit of a mess.

Roy Jakens

A client since 2012

A good, efficient team providing clear ideas to shape a winning strategy.

Adrian Michael Levenstein

A client since 2011

Black Swan is a company to be trusted, with friendly staff and professional advisors.

David Brian Jennings

A client since 2017

I have been with Black Swan for many years. I have never wished to change anything. They give a good straight forward service.

Martin Barrett Brooks

A client since 2010

Andy Peters has been invaluable in firstly combining several pension pots and then giving excellent investment advice. It has given us a great deal of comfort to know that our financial affairs are in such good hands.

James Guillum Scott

A client since 2014

I find my financial advisor easy to talk to and feel that she understands my lifestyle. She is always available for help when I need her and explains in words that I can understand.

Margaret Ena Glasgow

A client since 2000

Andy is a first rate Director, excellent communicator and leader.

Ross Perry

A client since

Black Swan Financial Planning and Andrew in particular, are very clever at working out how risk averse we are, and coming up with solutions that we feel comfortable with. We are happy in the knowledge that we can continue to enjoy a comfortable retirement. Andrew Peters is a very, very friendly person who is great to chat to and easy to deal with. He explains things very clearly in layman’s terms, and if we still don’t understand, he explains it until we do!

Alan & Jane Dyer

Clients since 2012

We have always found Rob [Young] to be very approachable and knowledgeable. We have every confidence in the advice given and feel comfortable with the decisions we’ve made. There are certain opportunities that we wouldn’t have known about if Rob hadn’t brought them to light, which makes the advice good value for money as far as we’re concerned.

Peter & Pauline O’Halloran

Clients since 2013

Rob [Young] is extremely knowledgeable. I knew nothing about the different types of trusts which will not only secure my income in retirement, but also leave a legacy for my children. I’m glad that I sought his advice when I did.

Sarah Wilson

A client since 2015

I am extremely happy with the service afforded to me by the company and my adviser Julie Cooper.

Geoff Coxell

A client since 2010

My wife and myself have been dealing with Black Swan for a number of years. We have met with different representatives from the company over the years and have found all very helpful in their own way. We met with James [Anderson] a few years ago and found him very helpful and knowledgeable. He keeps in contact with us on a regular basis. We find the Company information very helpful and we feel very secure with our finances.

Andrew Kirchen

A client since 2015

I have always found my adviser to be easy to contact, very professional in his approach, yet friendly and understanding. I have a sense of an experienced company behind him, really on the ball financially and with good standards.

B McBean

A client since 2011

Partner with the most reliable and experienced team of advisers

Enter your details & we'll be in touch to discuss your needs.
Alternatively, contact us directly and speak to a member of the team.

    Subscribe to our newsletter