It’s been four years since I took a peek inside the National Gallery and it was, admittedly, a curiosity to see Anthony Gormley’s plinth which first drew me to Trafalgar Square mid-summer. When I arrived a man was standing upon the great height, throwing out T-shirts to the wide-eyed tourists. I was instantly bored, so off inside I went for some ‘real’ art.
The Sainsbury Wing is this summer’s host to a collection of landscapes from the 18th and 19th century. Unlike the overwhelmingly large rooms upstairs, this basement space provides the perfect lunchtime sized culture fix.
Starting with Corot, we journey back through countries and time until to the beginnings ofIimpressionism. It’s a wonderful way to understand developments that brought us Monet’s ‘The Beach at Trouville’ but also a great way to see those unexpected or lesser known paintings along the way. John Constable’s painting of Brighton beach was a great surprise. Where are the trees, the horses, the Suffolk countryside? On a family holiday, Constable captured a seaside scene, unusual in his oeuvre. It’s more like a postcard or photograph than a grand work of art.
Indeed many of these landscapes are quite small (especially if you’ve come down from gazing at the Titian upstairs!) but nonetheless the works are lively, full of colour and light; suitable for a summer show.
The majority of the collection is made up of paintings from The Barbizon School: Millet, Rousseau, and Diaz and co. The Barbizon School members are the credited predecessors to Impressionism. Working occasionally in the open air, these painters captured the surrounding French countryside, rural scenes with masterful effect. We can follow the developing techniques and witness firsthand the influence the School had on Monet and his contemporaries.
This delightful collection of paintings is organised in such a manner that you can enjoy a journey of discovery or just bask in the sunny landscapes that summer ought to contain.
I was again faced with the plinth on the way out, and this time, a woman dressed as a scarecrow. ‘What’s your message?’ I asked. No reply. Perhaps, she represented Yeats’ ‘Aged Man’ but then I thought, I might be grasping at straws. Perhaps she really was there just to scare crows. It was working. No crows, just pigeons.
Monet to Corot runs until September 20th.The National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, London WC2N 5DN