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Housing more than 2,300 works, most of which are on permanent view, the National Gallery is one of the greatest assemblies of Western European art in the world.
With paintings dating from the 13th to the 20th centuries, all the major genres, styles and movements are represented.
Founded in 1824, the nucleus of the National Gallery's holdings was not a royal collection, as in the case of the Louvre or the Prado, but the British government's acquisition of 38 paintings from the estate of the wealthy financier John Julius Angerstein.
The earliest part of the collection mainly comprises devotional works from the 12th–14th centuries, masterpieces of passion and piety. These include the beautiful Wilton Diptych, painted for King Richard II of England.
The Renaissance is particularly well represented, with great works from Northern and Southern Europe jostling for supremacy. The walls of the 15th-century galleries glow with Madonnas by Bellini and Lippi, as well as works by Uccello, Memling and Botticelli. The 16th-century rooms feature Holbein's anamorphic marvel The Ambassadors, as well as paintings by Titian, Bronzino and Cranach.
The 17th-century galleries reflect the prominence of Dutch and Flemish art during this period, with works by Rubens, Van Dyck, Cuyp and two paintings by Vermeer. Paintings by Poussin, Velázquez and Caravaggio are among the highlights of the displays of French, Spanish and Italian art.
From the 18th century galleries onward, the collection reflects the diversification of art, and its growing role in the home as well as the church. Landscapes by Canaletto and Constable give way to the works of Monet, Cézanne and Van Gogh, portraits by Hogarth and Gainsborough to those of Ingres.
Room A at ground-floor level, which houses paintings not in the main displays upstairs, has recently opened to the public on Wednesdays and the first Sunday of each month. Paintings from different parts of the collection are hung together in broadly chronological order.
Art Funded works
One of the treasures of the National Gallery, Velázquez's The Toilet of Venus (known more commonly as the 'Rokeby Venus' was saved for the nation in 1906 after a contentious campaign.
Leonardo's famous cartoon, The Virgin and Child with St Anne and St John the Baptist is a full-size drawing for an altarpiece that was never realised. It was presented by the Art Fund in 1962 after a massive public fundraising campaign.
The National Gallery's Sainsbury Wing is home to major temporary exhibitions, which generally charge an entrance fee, while the Sunley Room galleries host smaller free exhibitions. There are also small free displays in Room 1.
The National Dining Rooms is the National Gallery's award-winning flagship restaurant. Serving modern British food under the direction of Oliver Peyton, it offers a bar menu, prix fixe menu as well as a sumptuous afternoon tea. You can grab a coffee in the Espresso Bar, or enjoy a more leisurely snack or meal in the National Cafe.