Last weekend we left the flat in the first time in a decade, it seems. We walked to the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square and traipsed through the one-way art routes. It was really well organised, mostly, and it was lovely experiencing a little bit of normality for the first time in months.
Entry to the National Gallery is by booked tickets only. The cloak room and café are closed for obvious reasons and one must wear a face mask at all times upon entry. The shop near the exit is still open and there are three one-way art routes to choose from where you can walk through two out of the three.
Social distancing and queueing
The gallery seemed pretty empty at first, but soon enough people started queuing to enter the smaller rooms. These smaller rooms created bottle necks, which was a little more difficult to social distance. There was only one staff member per room and some were not as attentive as others. In one instance a man walked straight past the queue to enter a room when a staff member wasn’t looking. It’s not entirely the staff’s fault and I understand this is a new situation for everyone. Most people were aware of the waiting queues, the British are polite queue-ers after all. But I guess some people just wanted to get to their favourite paintings.
The one way system leading you from room to room was good but then once inside said room the arrows stop – as soon as you enter a new room the system just stops. As you can’t double back on yourself, we ended up missing half the paintings in some rooms as we walked on following the arrows before realising it was too late to turn back. People naturally operate at different speeds, which undermines the well thought out one way system.
The gallery was nowhere near empty. People hang around paintings or don’t move on quickly. Oddly some people still sketched paintings and a couple of people sat on sofas chatting. It was an interesting social experience, to say the least. I wouldn’t mind going back, but perhaps during a less busy time.
The first route (route A) we walked through contained religious paintings which, if I’m honest, aren’t my favourite art pieces. Though we did get to see Leonardo da Vinci’s The Virgin of the Rocks. This was definitely one of the smallest rooms and created quite the bottle neck, but worth the wait I think.
Then the routes split into route B with Rubens and Rembrandt, or route C with Hogarth and Turner. Both routes had Monet and Van Gogh, but we do rather like Hogarth so opted for route C. Personally I would’ve preferred to walk through routes B and C and skip the religious paintings all together, but I imagine these routes were designed due to layout of the building.
Route C had some sublime landscape paintings by Constable and some lovely seascapes by Turner, providing a peaceful view. This Turner painting is apparently an unfinished one of Margate – quite astoundingly beautiful considering it wasn’t finished.
I was also very happy that I saw some Van Gogh too – my absolute favourite artist. This painting is of a wheat field near the asylum he spent a year at. Just beautiful.
Thoroughly enjoyed my time at the National Gallery, considering everything that is going on at the moment. Who knows when things can get back to normal, or if it ever will, and maybe this is the new normal. But I’m glad that I can still enjoy some art.