London’s Art Scene: How to Tackle The National Gallery and The British Museum

Some great tips on going through  two of the largest museums in the world.

The National Gallery

The best way to start is from your laptop, before you’ve even gotten close. Prior research will help you have a better experience. It’s not about trying to find every single masterpiece in the building. Go through the website and pick ten pieces of art. Here’s a couple of my favorites

  • The Arnolfini Portrait –  Jan Van Eyck 1434
  • The Ambassadors – Hans Holbein 1533
  • The Fighting Temeraire – Joseph Mallord William Turner 1839 ( Featured in Skyfall (2012) A must see for Bond fans!)
  • An Allegory of Prudence – Titian 1550-65

I selected a relatively famous collection of paintings that focus on portrait and landscape. That’s the beauty of it, whether you’re a hardened art historian who can pick ten on your fingertips, or completely oblivious to all things art, this is a great way to start.

The National Gallery is owned by the public and therefore has a free entrance policy to most of its collection. Going to one of the paid exhibitions is a great way to see a rare collection of art, but also contribute a little to this great institution.

A final piece of advice: Slow down!!! Most people rush in and out of The National Gallery taking a few pictures and move on to the next “attraction”. Take your ten paintings list, walk around Trafalgar Square, spend some time admiring the street performers and then make your way inside. Once you’re in, don’t stick only to your ten paintings, move around, explore, but make sure you’re doing justice to what you’re looking at.  Use your ten pieces as a map, not a checklist.

 

The British Museum

The British Museum has one of the largest collections of historical artifacts in the world. You could spend three days there and probably not get through everything. The museum acknowledges this and provides visitors with different time stipulated paths:.

1 Hour Trail: http://www.britishmuseum.org/visiting/planning_your_visit/object_trails/1_hour.aspx

3 Hour Trail: http://www.britishmuseum.org/visiting/planning_your_visit/object_trails/3_hours.aspx

That being said, the ten objects strategy might come in handy. This time instead of choosing just ten objects maybe bump that number up to thirty; a challenging number to the busy traveller but there are benefits.

Firstly, if you’ve spent a good amount of time scouring through the British Museum’s website you’ll an expert  before you even get there. Secondly, even if thirty is a big number it’s best to have a couple extras. The main purpose of the list is to create a visual map of the museum, you don’t need to complete it.

Save a morning to spend inside the museum, don’t forget to check for some amazing exhibitions. Once your there, have a wander then dive, right in. The gift store is a great place to pick up all sorts of books and gadgets at the end.

 

Challenge Mode!

If you’re not afraid of a challenge then we have something for you! A History of the World in 100 Objects was a book written by Neil MacGregor, in an attempt to explain the world’s history using 100 objects found in The British Museum.

220px-A_history_of_the_world_in_100_objects_book_cover

To be a true Museum Champion:

  1. Pick up a copy of the book on amazon or at the gift store in the museum.
  2. Read the ENTIRE book ( gaining an enlightening understanding of human history) .
  3. Go back to The British Museum and find all 100 artifacts.
  4. (Optional) Don’t forget to take pictures.
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