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The National Gallery to reopen on Monday 17 May

Issued May 2021

After 152 days with its doors closed, the National Gallery will open again, to reunite the nation with its collection, on Monday 17 May – offering space for art and the opportunity to experience 700 years of painting for free.

We are keeping in place the changes to the Gallery we first introduced in July 2020 – when we were the first major UK national art museum to reopen after the initial lockdown – that put your safety, and the safety of our staff, first.

As before, visits will be booked online and in advance. This is to help us manage the number of people in the Gallery, limit queueing and reduce contact.

Entrance will be via the Sainsbury Wing Entrance and exit through the Getty Entrance; there will be 2m social distancing measures in place throughout the Gallery. As part of our safety measures, we are maintaining – but have redesigned – the three one-way art routes that guide you through different areas of the collection (see ‘Notes to Editors’). You will still see the paintings you know and love as you are taken through the Gallery, with opportunities to choose which art journey your visit will take.

The critically acclaimed multi-sensory Sensing the Unseen: Step into Gossaert's ‘Adoration’ experience, which had to close less than a week after opening, will still be available to explore, admisson ffree, and has been extended until 13 June 2021. The Room 30 free display – An Overflow of Passion and Sentiment – produced by Rosalind Nashashibi, the 2020 National Gallery Artist in Residence, has also been extended, until 27 June 2021.

On 21 May, a brand new free exhibition will open in Room 46 – Conversations with God: Jan Matejko’s Copernicus (until 26 August). Jan Matejko’s (1838–1893) 10-foot-wide painting 'Astronomer Copernicus' unites two of Poland’s most famous figures, and is the first time the work has been to the UK. Despite being largely unknown outside his homeland, Matejko is regarded as the national painter of Poland.

On loan from Kraków's historic Jagiellonian University, this painting celebrates one of the most important names in the history of science, Polish mathematician and astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus (1473–1543); known for his theory, published in 1543, which proposed the solar system with the sun at its centre and the planets orbiting around it. This show is a rare opportunity to see one of Poland’s most loved works of art here in the UK.

Image: Image: Jan Matejko 'The Astronomer Copernicus. Conversations with God', 1873, Jagiellonian University, Kraków © Photo courtesy the owner

There are many other exciting things to see in the National Gallery as we reopen…

  • The newly acquired Portrait of a Girl (about 1650) by Isaack Luttichuys (1616–1673), the first work by the Dutch artist (who was born in London) to enter a British public collection.
  • The recently reattributed The Triumph of Silenus (about 1636). One of the first paintings to enter the National Gallery Collection in 1824, this was long considered a copy of a work by Nicolas Poussin (1594–1665). Following recent conservation treatment and in-depth technical analysis, it has now been fully reattributed to Poussin, the leading French painter of the 17th century.
  • The newly restored Cornard Wood, near Sudbury, Suffolk. This 1748 work by Thomas Gainsborough (1727–1788) has been off display for nine months undergoing conservation treatment. It will be back on show as part of a new hang in Room 31 showcasing British painting highlights, alongside iconic National Gallery works including The Hay Wain (John Constable, 1821), An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump (Joseph Wright ‘of Derby’, 1768) and the monumental Whistlejacket (George Stubbs, 1762).
  • A number of new and ambitious hangs across the Gallery. Room 12 has been completely rehung with The Ambassadors (1533) and other Holbein paintings ‘in conversation’ with works from the Italian Renaissance, including Titian’s Portrait of Gerolamo (?) Barbarigo (about 1510) and Giovanni Battista Moroni’s A Knight with his Jousting Helmet (about 1554–8). Another ‘conversation’ is now taking place in Room 38, this time between Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851) and Canaletto (1697–1768). Rooms 16 and 17 will be reopened with German Renaissance paintings, meantime Renaissance giants Michelangelo and Raphael can now be viewed side by side in Room 61.

Dr Gabriele Finaldi, Director of the National Gallery, London says, ‘To all our visitors we say, "Welcome back" to the Gallery. Come and enjoy some of the world's greatest paintings. We especially want to welcome first-time visitors to discover the art, the Gallery’s beautiful interiors, the wonderful views, and to get acquainted with Van Gogh, Turner, Leonardo and Artemisia Gentileschi. And all free.'

We will still be open 7-days a week (daily 10am–6pm, Friday 10am–9pm), but with a reduced maximum capacity for visitors. The Getty Shop will be open, along with a pop-up shop in the Sainsbury Wing Foyer offering pre-visit essentials. The Espresso Bar will be open for refreshments.

You will be able to download our online map ahead of your visit or view it on your smart phone, and visitors can access extensive information on each painting through the Gallery website. When walking through the art routes you can also get extra information by downloading the free Smartify app  and using your phone to scan the paintings.

For those unable to see the nation’s paintings in person at this time, the National Gallery will continue to bring its pictures to their homes in the major digital programme it launched after the doors in Trafalgar Square first shut. Through its digital initiatives the National Gallery will continue to be open 24/7 with art for everyone, anywhere, online.

Notes to editors

Plan your visit and book online


Art routes map

Some of our rooms are not open, in particular the smaller rooms, although key works from them will be visible to visitors.

Press enquiries

National Gallery Press Office email 
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