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Ian Waller and his daughter enjoy a day of sublime art in London

We love occasional days out and weekends away in London – just an hour and a bit away by GWR train and so much to enjoy.

Our most recent visit was a trip last weekend to The National Gallery, the home of just a stunning collection of artistic treasures from some of the absolute superstars of the art world. With room after room of Caravaggio, Turner, Renoir, Gaugin, Picasso and so many more, it’s just an incredible chance to get close to masterpieces from across the centuries.

The reason for our visit was largely educational, with my 18-year-old daughter already studying art and me just looking to increase my experience of a world which really, I knew so little about.

Incredibly The National Gallery is free to enter, although it’s still worth booking your tickets and entry time online, as the queue to get in gets longer as the day goes on and by booking ahead, you go straight to the front.

Once inside, we headed straight for The Last Caravaggio, a special exhibition running until 21 July and telling the stunning story of a recently (ish) discovered work, The Martyrdom of Saint Ursula, by the great Italian master that is paying its first visit to London. Displayed alongside what is probably the artist’s best-known work, Salome Receives The Head of John The Baptist, it’s a perfect introduction to the relevance of the classic artists who are still able to create wonder and adventure around their lives and works.

The Last Caravaggio

One of the things that The National Gallery does so well is explain the story behind the pieces on show and yet concisely enough so that it’s not too fact heavy. The only problem here is that for old fogies like me who rely on their readers, I had to lean so close to the information panels to read them.

From one master, it was which way next? There’s hall after hall of masterpieces and whichever way you turn, it’s a treasure trail. The popularity from the visitors was clear, with the biggest group crowding around one version of Van Gogh’s famous Sunflowers, with George Stubbs magnificent Whistlejacket also receiving the selfie treatment.

Van Gogh’s crowdpleaser

As it happened, my daughter and I were both entranced by the details and emotions of Turner’s work, particularly the seascapes such as Dutch Men In A Gale, huge pieces that work both from a distance and then displaying unbelievable detail as you edge ever closer. How long would these take to paint, we wondered? And who paid for them? Where were they displayed? These are pieces that demand extra Googling.

And it’s not only the works on display, but where they’re displayed as well. Chatting to one of the guides, he explained that his particular hall had benefited from a renovation just four years earlier which meant that your gaze is tempted up high to the vivid colours and gilt work of the ceiling level arches.

Stubbs’ Whistejacket

Stopping for a cuppa and pain au chocolat in one of the gallery’s several eateries, we couldn’t help but wonder why so many of the subjects of the portraits on show look blooming miserable? Perhaps it was the weight of their Sunday best clothes or a desire to look serious… Whichever, we left that gallery with a real desire to learn more about the artists on show.

To help out with your visit, there’s a Smartify app to download which allows you to receive information about paintings in the collection on your smartphone, as well as audio guides to hire for £5 a visit. There’s also an immersive app for children aged 7-11, although for us, this isn’t a venue that’s massively suitable for young ones. However, for teenagers studying art or parents and carers on a day out, The National Gallery is a truly fantastic venue.

To book your train travel, go to