An Hour in The National Portrait Gallery
On a drizzly Saturday afternoon, killing time before meeting our friends for drinks, my boyfriend and I found ourselves traipsing through London. I had forgotten how horrendous central London is on a Saturday. Hoards of selfie-stick emblazoned tourists, hovering-off-the-pavement-yodas and thousands and thousands of shoppers trawling up and down the famous shopping streets.
Seeking shelter from the masses, we decided to pop into the National Portrait Gallery just off Trafalgar Square. I studied History at university - a subject I absolutely adored - and although I was glad to finish my degree, my historical-juices were running low. The remedy? A quick nip around some of the most famous British portraiture.
The National Portrait Gallery is completely free and a wonderful escape from the bustle of central London. Chronologically curated, we started our hour in Tudor England. This was definitely my favourite part of the entire gallery. Hanging in incredibly opulent, golden frames were portraits of some of the most famous actors in British history, from Henry VIII and his string of wonderful wives to fiery paintings of Elizabeth I. The chance to see the 'Darnley Portrait' (one of the most important, surviving images of Elizabeth I [see photographs below]) was amazing. The portrait is famous for its lifelike detail - a realism that is missing from many other paintings of this era.
Leaving the immeasurable treasures of the Tudor collection, we moved on to the Stuart and Georgian sections of the gallery. The Stuart portraits were much more austere; rows and rows of studious-looking men in grey wigs and black coats. The Georgians were a lot more fun - the gaudy decadence of the era resonated through portraits of ruffle-clad men clutching golden goblets and beautiful women painted in jewel encrusted ball gowns, grey wigs two a penny!
The chronological layout of the gallery provided a wonderful whistle-stop tour through British history. Even to the untrained eye (#historiansunite), it was easy to spot the influence of historical events on the style of the paintings. The Victorian collection was full to the brim of stern-looking scientists and politicians. There was, however, a small cluster of paintings of Queen Victoria and Albert; one of my favourite love stories in history.
Unsurprisingly, the 20th century opened with war-themed portraits of generals, soldiers and politicians. Nevertheless, I was delighted to find a little corner dedicated to women's suffrage. There was a beautiful portrait of Christabel Pankhurst, adorned in white, green and purple.
Moving swiftly through the 20th century, we finished our hour in the National Portrait Gallery in the 'modern' collection. There was a provocative series of Antony Gormley prints, as well as paintings of Margaret Thatcher, the Queen, Paul McCartney and a beautiful portrait of ballet dancer, Darcy Bussell. We also got a glimpse of the somewhat controversial portrait of Kate Middleton. I thought the painting was incredibly unflattering; it made Kate look weathered, tired and about 90 years old! What do you think? (See below!)
Ultimately, if you ever find yourself near Trafalgar Square, bogged down in a sea of tourists and sick of the business of central London, have a wander around The National Portrait Gallery. You'll find it an enchanting journey across the faces of British history.