Victorian London - Entertainment and Recreation - Museums, Public Buildings and Galleries - National Gallery

The National Gallery,* (The gallery is open the four first days in the week, from 10 to 5, to the public, and on Fridays and Saturdays to students; but is generally closed for six weeks, commencing from the middle of September) Trafalgar Square, affords a lamentable instance of the danger of intrusting to incompetent persons the conduct of a great national establishment, and the consequences are here strikingly exemplified. Occupying unquestionably the finest site in the metropolis, the paltry building here erected, from the contempt in which it is universally held, has been stigmatised with the damning designation of a national disgrace. It is the first architectural effort of the economic school; let us hope it will be the last : the permission of its continuance may well be pronounced a monument of folly.
    The gallery is nearly 500 feet long: it consists of a central portico of eight Corinthian columns in front, and two in depth, ascended by steps at each end at an elevation of 8 feet from the ground. Between the centre and the wings are two entrances, composed of four Corinthian columns, one leading to Castle Street, the other to the barracks. The portico is surmounted by an ornamented dome, and the whole range of building by a balustrade. The portion to the right side of the portico is devoted to the Royal Academy, and that to the left comprises the galleries for the works of art; the two being connected by the grand staircase and vestibule dividing the building into equal parts.

Mogg's New Picture of London and Visitor's Guide to it Sights, 1844

NATIONAL GALLERY (THE) occupies the whole north side of Trafalgar-square, and stands on the site of the King's Mews. It is divided between the national collection of paintings of the old masters, the western half; and the Royal Academy, occupying the eastern half, which exhibitions of modern works are held from May to July. The Gallery was founded by a vote of Parliament, April 2nd, 1824, and the present building erected between 1832 and 1838. ... It is very inferior to the great galleries on the continent; but, in many respects, is a highly important collection, containing, as it does, some of the best examples of the greatest painters. Cheap catalogues of the pictures, from a penny to a shilling, (Mr. Wornum's is by far the best), may be had both within and without the Gallery.

Peter Cunningham, Hand-Book of London, 1850

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National Gallery, Trafalgar-square.—It was not until the year 1824 that any national gallery of pictures was founded in England. The purchase of the collection of the late Mr. J. Angerstein formed the nucleus of the present collection. A grant of £60,000 was originally voted by Parliament to provide for the acquisition of the pictures and the incidental expenses. The collection was first exhibited in Mr. Angerstein’s house in Pall Mall. Many presents and bequests of more or less value were made during the next few years; and the number of pictures in the gallery, including the works of the British school was in 1878 (on the authority of the official catalogue), one thousand and forty-six. The present building was opened to the public in 1838, altered and enlarged by Sir James Pennethorne in 1860 and 1869. Five rooms were added on the departure of the Royal Academy of Arts. In 1876 a new wing, designed by E. M. Barry, R.A., was built. Sightseers should not judge of the building by its exteriors from which point of view it is one of the most unfortunate specimens of English architecture. The interior however, is well adapted for its purpose, the rooms being well. proportioned, carefully ventilated and admirably lit. It is impossible to attempt anything like a description of the many important works contained in the gallery. The authorised catalogues, which may be obtained on the spot, are both historically and descriptively exhaustive. The gallery is open to the public on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays, during the following months: November, December, January, from 10 am. until dusk; February, March,  April, from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m.; May, June, July, August, from 10 am, until 6 p.m.; September, from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. The gallery is open to students on Thursdays and Fridays during the above-mentioned months from 10 a.m. till 5 p.m. In the month of October the gallery is closed.

Charles Dickens (Jr.), Dickens's Dictionary of London, 1879

see also George Sala in London Up to Date - click here

Victorian London - Publications - History - The Queen's London : a Pictorial and Descriptive Record of the Streets, Buildings, Parks and Scenery of the Great Metropolis, 1896 - The National Gallery, with St. Martin's Church

National Gallery - photograph


The National Gallery, concerning the merits or demerits of which such strong opinions are expressed by architectural critics, is Grecian in style, and Wilkins was responsible for the design. This gallery was built in 1832-8, to receive the pictures of which the nucleus had been formed in 1824 after twenty-two years, the structure was considerably enlarged, and the façade is now 460 feet in length. To the right, in our view, is the church of St. Martins-in-the-Fields, which boasts a Grecian portico of quite unusual beauty. It was built in 1721-6 by Gibbs, on the site of an earlier church and in the old churchyard lies buried Nell Gwynne, under whose bequest the fine bells are rung every week.