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London Day 1: The National Gallery

The National Gallery
Cost: Free
Time: 2-3 hours
After our dinner experience near Leicester Square in London we were able to head to our final destination for the day- The National Gallery. This was our view only a street away from the restaurant:

I was so excited for this one, I absolutely love art and this place contains some of the most famous paintings in the world! Not to mention they have multiple Van Goghs, and if you’re a newer reader my obsession with Vincent Van Gogh which can be seen here, here, here, here, or here.

A few other great things about it: it’s free, they stay open late on Fridays, and I’ve heard the cafe is pretty good too (but we ate just before, sadly).

The National Gallery in London.

The only not-so-great thing: you can’t take pictures inside. For real, they police it. It can damage priceless paintings, so I had the kibosh put on my grand plans to get a pic of me with a Van Gogh pretty fast. No worries, this bucket-list item was actually fulfilled in LA at The Getty almost 2 years ago. I was still a little sad to learn that I couldn’t share some of the amazing things I was able to see with others.

Let me tell you the short list of things we were able to see:

Several Impressionists (personal favorite) by Cezanne, Paul Gougin, Camille Pissaro (a most excellent first name), George Seurat, 6 Van Goghs (insert giddy squeal here), and 12 Monets!

In addition we were able to see paintings by Rembrandt, Titian, Raphael, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Botticelli, Delaroche… just to name a few!

Let me pause here and explain what a moving moment this was in my life. We had heard not to save the best for last on your trip because some museums close early, strikes happen often in Europe, crowds can box you out, etc. “If you want to do something do it first” was repeated in all travel books. This is the opposite how I live my life. Every night at dinner I save whatever I believe will be the best bite of whatever I’m eating for last. I work before I play, and I savor the best for last any time I have the opportunity.

Imagine my paradigm shift knowing I would be heading straight for Van Gogh’s first. Giddy can’t describe my feeling as I walked into room 45. Upon entering my eyes instantly caught one of my all-time favorite paintings, A Wheatfield, with Cypresses, and I had a flood of emotions I did not expect. I started to choke up with tears, real tears this time, as I stood in the presence of greatness. It wasn’t just “this is amazing” or “I’m happy to be here,” it was a moment of awe and humility.

I thought of how many people in my life had seen this in real life, and I can count them on 2 hands. What a remarkable opportunity I was being given! I felt guilty for having such an amazing moment that I know many won’t get to have in their life. It was humbling.

I also thought of Vincent, how he sold one painting his whole life, and here 6 hung in one of the most famous art museums in the world. I thought about the prints I had studied and fallen in love with, and how they would never show that thick texture. They don’t quite capture the color. They are close, they are beautiful, but they just can’t do justice to what I was beholding.

I suppose this is one of the big reasons why it’s so important to go see things in person, because you just can’t replace this moment with a print or a book. And I thought of this speech and I felt like for the first time I actually fully understood it (warning, it’s not the edited version on YouTube, swearing at the end).

I stood at A Wheatfield, with Cypresses for 20 minutes before Jacob came and pulled me away. I tried to move faster with the others. We had a lot to see, and limited time. I was thankful for the moment I had just had, it made the moment I found out Sunflowers was on loan a little less disappointing.

But it made me look at every painting different. Some artists had cushy lives and worked for royalty, but most struggled through horrendous times of history and this was their expression. There were so many times I choked up seeing history before my eyes in the form of art. And how can you not see a Michelangelo and not just feel moved and overwhelmed?

Jet lag was getting the best of Jacob, and he was falling asleep on the benches while I cried. I decided maybe that was okay. I could not feel embarrassed or like he was bored, and he could give me my moment with some of the greatest names history has ever heard after he briefly saw each.

So I did the best I could to capture some of the things that moved me- I took a few iPhone pics of the postcards in the gift shop.

Van Gogh paintings in The National Gallery in London.

And I walked out of the moment realizing that if I was only given one day in Europe, it had already changed my life.

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One Comment

  1. I don't know if you're a Doctor Who fan or not, but if you haven't seen the episode “Vincent and the Doctor” you really really need to. It makes me cry every time. You will love it. Although if you're not privy to the Whovian universe it may also be a smidge confusing. Just roll with it. 🙂

    Also: I adore London and am so glad you got to go!