The National Gallery in Trafalgar Square was built in 1838 to house the growing national collection of Art and to be a venue comparable with other national art galleries, such as the Louvre in Paris.
Displaying Western European paintings from the 13th to the 19th century the National Gallery was built with the aim of showing them freely to people of all social classes. The pictures, most of which used to belong to private collectors, have been either bought or gifted to the collection.
Originally the building’s design was criticised. It was only one room deep and very cramped. King William IV called it “a nasty pokey little hole”. Since then there have been many alterations and additions with large architectural spaces arranged on a Greek-Cross plan.
Modernised over the years, the building's façade onto Trafalgar Square, the Victorian interior decoration and other classical details remain unchanged.
The collection of over 2000 paintings contains some of the world’s greatest works of art, including Vermeer’s “A Young Woman Standing at a Virginal”, “The Arnolfini Portrait” by Jan van Eyck, and Turner’s “The Fighting Temeraire” as well as masterpieces by Titian, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Constable ,and van Gogh.
From the middle of the 19th century the National Portrait Gallery, position next to the National Gallery, has gathered a collection of over 1100 portraits of famous historic and contemporary figures.
The portraits are chosen because of the public interest in the sitter rather than the quality of the work. From early Tudor monarchs such as Elizabeth I and Henry VIII, to statesmen and people of high and popular culture in the present day including footballers, playwrights, pop stars and opera singers.
There are also portraits by famous artists including Gainsborough, Holbein and Hockney, and different kinds of representation such as sculpture, photography and video.
In January 2012, Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge became an official patron of the National Portrait Gallery.