The sensible art lover will take my advice and plan exactly what they want to see in advance. The Strand Palace Hotel benefits from being but few minutes’ walk from the glorious National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery in London’s Trafalgar Square, and the Lawrence Alkin Gallery by Tottenham Court Road.
I was struck the last time I visited the National Gallery by how many visitors took pictures of the pictures with their smartphones, as though creating their own gallery, an interesting idea in itself. But I always see the National Gallery as a place of quiet contemplation: somewhere to sit and lose oneself in the many magnificent paintings on display there.
The Turner paintings are unparalleled in my view and the National Gallery has a distinguished series of them. Known as England’s impressionist JMW Turner’s landscapes never cease to excite and transport me. One also has a sense of the extraordinary emotion that Turner felt when struggling to paint the effect of light in a style that was not popular at the time. One of My personal favourites is ‘Margate by the Sea’. Margate is very accessible from London if you are able to spend a day there. Head down to the sea for a flavour of the big skies so beloved of Turner; always epic and almost mythic. Another favourite is ‘Rain, Steam and Speed – The Great Western Railway’, which is the perfect combination of Turner’s passions; nature and the technology of the time.
National Gallery, Trafalgar Square
When you’re done there, go next door to the National Portrait Gallery: the Tudor rooms are always worth a visit, where the portraiture is surprisingly lifelike, not always that typical ‘Tudor’ style. The lower gallery of Twentieth Century portraits is always very revealing, both in style and subject. My favourites here are portraits of the late Princess Diana, looking carefree, and the actress Tilda Swinton. And of course, the BP Portrait exhibition is on, showcasing the many talented artists who submit their work.
National Portrait Gallery, St. Martin’s Place
If your taste in art is more modern then be sure to pop into the Lawrence Alkin Gallery (north of the Strand Palace Hotel) this tiny gallery specialises in bold graphic art with many pop references and always has something interesting to see. Mix: The Summer Group Show is on at the moment. Be sure to check their Twitter feed for the latest openings. Artists are often present at their lively previews. Art by Jeff Koons, Bridget Riley and Marc Quinn can be purchased here.
Lawrence Alkin Gallery, 42 New Compton Street
By Elinor Perry-Smith, Associate Editor of SEEN London.