The National Gallery was founded in 1824 when George IV persuaded the government to purchase 38 major paintings, including works by Raphael and Rembrandt.
The building, with its Neo-Classical facade of Portland stone, was designed by William Wilkins and built in 1834 – 38.
Over the years the collection grew steadily as benefactors donated works and money, and today the National Gallery has one of the finest collections of paintings in the world, over 2,200 western European paintings from the 13th to the 20th century.
The Sainsbury Wing, to the left of the main building, was financed by the grocery family and completed in 1991.This houses a collection of early Renaissance works and hosts a large number of temporary exhibitions throughout the year.
The collection is mostly displayed on one floor, divided into four wings, and arranged in chronological order and shown in a lavish setting. The earliest works, 1260 – 1510, are housed in the Sainsbury Wing, the North, West and East Wings house works from 1510 – 1920. Lesser paintings from all these periods are displayed on the lower floor.
A good idea is to concentrate on the most important pictures on the ground floor, with Leonardo da Vinci’s cartoon of ‘The Virgin and Child with Saint John the Baptist and Saint Anne’, the ‘Arnolfini Marriage’ by Jan van Eyck, ‘The Ambassadors’ by Hans Holbein, the ‘Rokeby Venus’ by Diago Velázquez, ‘The Haywain’ by John Constable, ‘Bathers at Asnieres’ by Georges Seurat and ‘Sunflowers’ by Vincent van Gogh.
The Micro Gallery in the Sainsbury Wing contains a computer information centre, you can touch a screen and see any painting in the collection, print out a reproduction or produce a custom tour around your favourite works of art.
Admission free, Charge for exhibitions.