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Thursday, November 21, 2013

The National Portrait Gallery London - More Than A Museum

Leicester (pronounced Lester) Square:  the heart of cultural London

The National Portrait Gallery just steps away from Leicester

                                                   The National Portrait Gallery – London

You might call Leicester Square the epicenter of cultural London.  Sure, there are bunches more museums scattered throughout the city, but even the world famous British Museum is within walking distance, although I’d probably take the tube.

Discount ticket offices are right in the square and theaters are scattered on every side. Even Covent Garden is almost as close from Leicester tube as it is from the Covent Garden tube.  Trafalgar Square is right down the street, as is the world famous church, St Martin-in-the-Fields.

Admiral Lord Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square - Just down the street from Leicester Square

But, let’s get back to museums:  The National Gallery, The National Portrait Gallery, The Transport Museum, The British Optical Association Museum, and even The Cartoon Museum.  The list goes on for pages

Sorry folks.  Ya just can’t do ‘em all in one afternoon, or one lifetime.  Gotta pick and choose.  This time I chose The National Portrait Gallery.  Why?  Never been there, but I knew I’d be impressed and inspired.  There’s so much more to a museum experience than just staring at pictures.

To paraphrase Ernest Hemingway, when asked what he did for inspiration, the great writer said, ‘I go look at a few canvases.’ I know what he meant.  There’s a commonality in all forms of art.  Art connects us as humans, whether it’s ballet, pottery, or cake decorating.

So, off I trotted to The N.P.G. to reconnect.  What I found amazed me, as art museums often do.  Did you know that Bob Dylan does portraits?  I didn’t.  Impressive.  How about a high tech portrait that changes colors?

portrait of zaha Hadid, the Iraqi-born architect of the London 2012 Olympic Aquatics Centre, by Michael Craig-Martin

And how about the spacing, lighting, color, and display of art works?  Fascinating. Comes in handy when you decorate your home.  Clutter annoys us.  Space, indirect light, and temperate colors soothe.

Bob Dylan's black and white portraits.  Note the contrasting neutral walls and ceiling and the indirect lighting.

More space and shadows and indirect light.

Art is also a study in history and I don’t necessarily mean ‘art history.’  Portraits reflect, not only famous faces, but dress, hair styles, that offer a glimpse into the soul.  Stern and domineering, or friendly and approachable?  A portrait piques my curiosity.  Makes me want to know more about people, their lives, and times.  The labels beside the paintings offer tidbits of information.  Slowly, the pieces start to mean something.  I find myself pondering and grabbing books.

Mary Queen of Scots by Nicholas Hilliard

William Shakespheare, attributed to John Taylor, circa 1600

Early English Kings

Sir Winston Churchill 1916, when he was 42 years old, by Sir William Newenham Montague Orpen

Even if you don’t particularly care for art in general, or portraits in particular, take a break from pubbing and the theater to give The National Portrait Gallery an hour of your time.  Hey, you’re in Leicester Square, the London home to all things cultural!

Room to sit, time to ponder and read.

But, enough is enough.  Time to pull another pint.


  1. Lisa and I are going to London in January. Do you have any hotel recommendations?

  2. You bet! Will send you an email.

  3. Jeff, your email came back as undeliverable. Not sure that Lisa got hers either.