Tunde Folawiyo often refers to London as his second home, so it’s no surprise that the art collector and board member of the African Leadership Academy often pays a visit to London’s National Gallery when he travels to England’s capital city. With more than 2000 works on display and the majority of the collection on permanent view to the general public, the National Gallery has earned its place as one of the greatest assemblies of European art in the world.
Located in the centre of London in Trafalgar Square, the National Gallery was founded in 1824, but did not follow in the footsteps of other famous galleries such as the Louvre in Paris or Madrid’s Museo del Prado. Where these galleries hosted mainly royal collections, the National Gallery’s first collection of paintings came from the banker and art collector John Julius Angerstein, comprising Italian works together with examples from Dutch, English and Flemish schools of art. By the 1840s, the gallery’s rooms began to overcrowd with new displays, and in 1876 the building was enlarged to provide space for a more extensive collection. The collection dates from the 13th to the 20th century, representing a wide range of movements, genres and styles and at its current size, the National Gallery is now large enough to hold over 2000 London double-decker buses.
Recent blockbuster exhibitions have included works by Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt and Titian, but the programme for 2016 looks decidedly more understated. In June, an exhibition will focus on works in the gallery’s collection that were at one point owned by other artists, while October sees the first UK exhibition of the work of 16th century painter Carvaggio, famous as much for his work as his turbulent lifestyle.
The National Gallery hosts ticketed events throughout the year, although free events such as talks and courses are also offered every day to help the public understand and appreciate the paintings on display. With its commitment to free admission and position in the very heart of London, the National Gallery has set new records for admission in the last few years. With over 6.5 million visitors per year, it is now second only to the British Museum as the most popular tourist attraction in the UK. The gallery also contains the National Dining Rooms, an award-winning flagship restaurant.