Things You Might Not Have Done In The National Gallery

By Sian Meades Last edited 20 months ago
Things You Might Not Have Done In The National Gallery
The National Gallery. Image: Neil Howard.

The National Gallery is one of London's most visited attractions — around six million people come here every year. While they're all staring at Van Gogh's cypress trees, here are some more off-the-beaten-track things to do.

The Virgin of the Rocks. Image: National Gallery

Discover the hidden Leonardo

Lots of classical painters reused their canvasses and it's not unusual for experts to discover sketches beneath the surface of works they acquire. The Virgin of The Rocks by Leonardo da Vinci is one such example. Underneath this famous painting is a completely different preliminary piece — one that was very likely to be painted by Da Vinci himself, rather than any of his assistants. You can only see the first layer with special technology, but head to room 66 and be smug in the knowledge that you're looking at two pictures for the price of one.

Take a life drawing class

Inspired by the art around you? Don't feel awkward when strangers get naked in front of you? The National Gallery offers life drawing classes — so once you've soaked up all the bums, breasts and various other squidgy things this place has to offer, move onto the real thing with a life model. Who knows, you might turn out to be the next Rubens.

Samson and Delilah, by Rubens. Image: National Gallery

Count the nipples

Talking of nudity, in 2011 we counted the nipples on display at the National Gallery. It's possible that the number has changed since then, so maybe it's time for a recount. Who wants to volunteer (we're nippled out)? Fancy a different challenge? There are five monkeys, one squirrel and a tiger in the collection... that will keep you busy until closing.

Take a free tour

The National Gallery offers free 60 minute tours at 11.30am and 2,30pm every day, and at 7pm when their Friday Lates event is running. There's no chance you'll get around all 2,300 works in the collection, but you'll get a brilliant overview of British art history and take in some of the most important works, including The Ambassadors by Hans Holbein by way of Constable and Van Gogh. A crash course in fine art if ever there was one.

Stop at the cafe for an oyster or six. Image: Farrukh

Try the oysters

A London gallery restaurant isn't exactly unusual, but it is a rather unique thing to be served Colchester native oysters after you've had a gander at Monet's Japanese Bridge. The National Cafe is a little fancier than most gallery restaurants, and if oysters are just a bit too, er, oystery for you, they also serve a slice of cake and a cuppa.

Get arty on your lunch break

For those of you desperate to break away from the combo of a quick sandwich al desko for lunch, hotfoot it to the gallery at 1pm for their specially scheduled lunchtime art talks. Some are on specific paintings, others, wider themes around the gallery and art. You'll return to work a little bit smarter, and at least 87% more smug when you see your colleagues who haven't left their computers.

Outstay your welcome

Every couple of months the gallery stays open late on a Friday night. So far so typical but to make it stand out from the rest, each night has a different theme. Themes include everything from Renaissance art with sugar crafting, to calligraphy workshops.

Don't have an hour? Perhaps you can spare 10 minutes

Last Updated 13 April 2017