Today we visited the National Portrait Gallery and Apsley House, the home of the Duke of Wellington. The National Portrait Gallery is as much a history lesson as an art lesson. It contains 400 years of portraits of famous Brits. Each portrait comes with details about the sitter’s place in history. It was very informative. That said, much of the art is not great. The purpose of this gallery is to show portraits of the famous, not show examples of fine painting.
Apsley House is the home purchased by the Duke of Wellington after he returned victorious from Waterloo. In mid-20th century the family donated it to the National Trust with the proviso that they get to continue to live there. The idea is that part of the house is open to visitors, including the extensive art collection. However, it is a house and the paintings are not lit or displayed like they would be in a gallery. That makes it difficult to view them. The collection contains some fine pieces by Velaquez, Rubens, and many others. However, it was disappointing to have to imagine what they would look like in something like museum quality lighting.
Leaving Apsley House we were surprised to see London Metropolitan Police motorcycles closing the streets in Hyde Park Square. One minute later a motorcade came around the round-about with that great Irish-American statesman, Obama. We waved, but he didn’t wave back. He was in deep discussion with the PM. No, we didn’t have time to get our cameras out and take a photo. It has been very interesting to watch BBC coverage of his visit.
What did I learn today? I looked closely at brushwork and layers of paint. It is fascinating to me to try to discover how many layers the artist painted to get the depth. Many artists use multiple layers, letting the oil paint dry between painting sessions. That creates wonderful depth of detail on faces, hair, etc. The brushwork also seems to show that the artists used many brushes, each loaded with a different color and used these to gradually develop the shadows, etc. Finally, I spent a little time surreptitiously sketching folks sitting around the galleries. I’m enjoying capturing poses and postures quickly.