Making my heart beat a little faster

2015 has begun and I am already filled with inspiration. Today Jamie and I headed out far too early in the morning to catch a train to London. My treat was to see the Tudor paintings at the National Portrait Gallery. I love this period of painting and I knew I'd love them, but still, when you walk into the room surrounded on all sides by The Ditchley Portrait, Phoenix portrait and two Armada portraits, I can't deny that my heart beat just a little faster. Photography wasn't allowed which was a real shame, so you'll have to make do with these pictures that I've pinched from the web just to help set the scene...

'Armada Portrait', c.1588

'The Phoenix Portrait', attributed to Hilliard, 1575

But honestly, these images do the originals no justice at all. They are not just paintings, but fascinating historical objects. Just perfect.

Seeing painting for real rather than in books or on the internet is so important. These portraits might appear to be photographic in their detail and realism, but up close, a pearl is suggested with three swipes of paint, so thinly applied that the painting beneath shows through, but step back slightly and I'm thoroughly convinced.

We wandered around the rest of the Portrait Gallery and also next door, for a whistle-stop tour of the National. Photography is mostly allowed in these galleries. Here are some of my favourites...

'A Young Princess', Jan Gossaert, c.1530-2
I thought this portrait of a young girl to be exquisite. Quite small in scale, the painting was so beautifully done. Something which stood out amongst most of the paintings we looked at today, was how beautifully the painting of the fabrics had been executed with such a lightness of touch and economy of brushstroke.

'Cornelis van der Geest', Anthony van Dyck, c.1620, detail below.
This captivating portrait was so at home in this wonderful frame. I love it when the painting and the frame belong so well together as a complete object. Photography does something to these paintings that deadens them, you really must go and see them for real.

'Portrait of a woman of the Hofer family', artist unknown, c.1470, detail.
This was another beauty. I love the almost monochromatic colour palette.

And now for something quite different but equally compelling. I'm so fascinated by this piece of work. I have a photo of it stuck into a sketchbook from years ago and I often come back to it. Could there be more of a self portrait than this? 

Terrible photo because of reflections, here's a better photo of another version of this piece from the web...

'Self', Marc Quinn, cast of the artist's head, the artist's blood.
You know when you go to see a wonderful movie and at the end you walk out of the dark and out into the car park and the world is just going on as normal? It was a bit like that today, we stepped out of the gallery and all of London was bustling away. 

The National Gallery, London
I don't think I will sleep much tonight. 



  1. This looks like a good place to go! I must write it down somewhere because I keep forgetting it is on.
    Do you know if there is a portrait of Elizabeth I in a red gown? I saw one at the 400 years anniversary at the Royal Observatory, but have never seen it since.
    Sandy in Bracknell

  2. I love going to the museum here in's so amazing to look at the detail the "masters" obtained with paint and brush!!!

  3. You lucky duck! I'd love to see those paintings. I adore the costume details. Sounds like you had a fabulous day out.

  4. I love it when you go to a Gallery; its bring the gallery her to me. I love the painting of old masters, we have here in Belgium great Art galleries, but when I have to be honest I find that "self portrait" a little bit Creepy. aldo I can see the artistic work in it. It is just like The Scream of Edvard Munch. I makes my arm hair standing up, I would never hang something like this in my cozy room, but some people do love it. I love Pieter Bruegel the old one, Rubens, Van Eyck, But When you see an English painting it is about rich people and romantic places, her in Belgium it is religion or farmers who are working hard on the land to make a living. It is not so romantic like the English one. And I love the romantic.

  5. I had the same buzz from when I went to 'In fine Style: The Art of Tudor and Stuart Fashion' last year in Edinburgh. Now just think, all those fabulous paintings AND some of the actual, real clothing and jewels on display too. Staggering. I still have goosebumps thinking of it. And they were so tiny! Modern man and woman has changed a lot.

  6. I agree with you, that we need to look at artworks in the flesh whenever possible. Reproductions just do not convey the actuality. And in the UK/Europe, we have so much. When I studied History of Art, in Perth, Australia, during a study abroad year, I realised how much we have, and how many original Masters work I had seen - about 50% of the illustrations in the presentations!

  7. I, too, was in the NPG last week, looking at Dr Samuel Johnson (of dictionary fame) and his sometime houseguest, Elizabeth Carter (one of the original bluestockings). The NPG is a great resource for research on notable historic people, and they have a great free archive, available by appointment, with very helpful staff. How lucky are we to have this facility?


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