Inside The National Gallery's 'Secret' Room

By M@ Last edited 173 months ago

Last Updated 21 December 2009

Inside The National Gallery's 'Secret' Room

The National Gallery is never short of visitors. Certain areas can pull in hundreds of art fanciers and idle browsers every hour (Room 45, roost of the Sunflowers, we're looking at you). It's very rare to find yourself alone in any one of the Gallery's 60 or so rooms.

With one exception. It's called Room A.

Room A contains far more paintings than any other room at the Gallery. In all probability, it publicly displays more canvases than any single space anywhere in London. Over 800 of the blighters, in fact. Yet only a vanishingly small number of visitors ever seek it out. On our recent intrusion, staff outnumbered public three to one.

The reason for this obscurity lies in the opening times. You can only gain access for 3.5 hours a week, on a Wednesday afternoon. This week must surely be the best opportunity of the year to get down there, with many of us taking the day off work to do some last minute shopping. Consider swinging by. While much of the hangings are certainly B-list (how many adoring magi or storm-tossed Dutch vessels do we need?), it's worth remembering that this is the National Gallery's B-list. Many of these paintings would take centre stage at lesser venues. This intense Sargent portrait, for example, would surely make a huge impact if hung elsewhere. Raphael is down here. And Caravaggio. And Rembrandt. If you're one of those people who likes sketching in galleries, Room A with its huge variety and sepulchral quietness is your new best friend.

Room A is open 2pm-5.30pm every Wednesday. You'll find the stairs near Room 15 (the vestibule that normally houses the quartet of Claude and Turners. All images copyright the National Gallery, and used with permission.