Our National Treasure

Niamh_Yeats 941 PhotoCNGIMoney’s too tight to mention and with another tough budget looming, it’s safe to say, it’s probably not going to get any better for our already over-stretched pockets. But here in the heart of Dublin we have a neglected resource, right under our noses. It’s somewhere we often forget when it comes to planning a fun, and as importantly, budget-friendly day out. It’s easy to get to from every part of the city and promises a few hours of discovery and enjoyment for all the family. The National Gallery of Ireland is a hidden gem in our city, housing some of the world’s most beautiful paintings by various masters of their art and we are very lucky as Dubliners, that this world class collection is available for us to experience, completely free of charge. Ireland is one of the few countries in the world that does not charge into our national exhibition spaces and galleries, and now is the perfect time to take advantage of this unique status and explore the amazing art freely available to us.

Maybe you feel that the National Art Gallery would be the last place you would choose to spend a rainy day, afraid of a stuffy atmosphere filled with paintings hundreds of years old, being looked at by equally stuffy people. You may think that this beautiful building and these wonderful art objects within it, must be understood to be enjoyed, or that one must have a certain level of education or be of a certain background to fully appreciate them. Art is for everyone. That’s the joy of good art, anyone can appreciate and take pleasure from it, regardless of their comprehension or knowledge. We are all entitled to have an opinion on art, to decide whether we like something or not and to express our thoughts and feelings about what we see.

At the moment and scheduled until 2015, there are huge renovations happening within the National Gallery to expand the space and improve the older part of the building. This means that there are a limited number of gallery spaces open to the public, all are accessed from the Clare Street entrance, and only a section of the permanent collection is being displayed. It also means that instead of visitors to the gallery being overwhelmed by the huge number of art works on display, the paintings have been organised into a simple, smaller scale display that is easy to follow and gives the viewer space to enjoy them.

Coming in from the Clare Street entrance you emerge from the hustle and bustle of a busy junction into a bright and airy space, its tall ceilings form part of a spacious peaceful oasis, nestled in the heart of our city. Take a few minutes to shake off the urban greyness, maybe have a coffee in the café to de-compress from city life or have a walk around the gallery shop. The Millennium Wing was built around ten years ago and its sweeping angles and dramatic natural light are the perfect antidote to the hectic city outside.

Another wonderful thing about the National Gallery is that audio tours are free of charge and are a great source of basic background information about the artworks. Just ask the helpful gallery staff and you can happily wander around the gallery listening and learning while viewing the work. At the moment on display there is a selection of key Irish paintings charting the development of Irish art from the eighteenth century onwards. These are arranged specifically to allow the viewer to look at them in historical order, helping to see the changes in styles and subjects through the centuries.

Highlights of the Irish collection include J.B. Yeats paintings, showing how his style developed through his life, while documenting ordinary Irish people. The Liffey Swim shows how little our city has changed in almost a hundred years while Above the Fair needs a little longer to really see it all -try counting the horses as they emerge from the bright slashes of colour and textured paint. Another highlight is The Opening of the Sixth Seal by Francis Danby, a huge and dramatic painting showing the end of the world, complete with a flash of lightning that cuts through the landscape, as engaging as any modern day movie thriller.

There are many other works to enjoy from Irish as well as European and International artists, giving everyone the perfect chance to pick their own favourites; Caravaggio or Rembrant, De Goya or Da Vinci you decide. As an inhabitant of our wonderful city, every Dubliner should explore and take pleasure from this astonishing building and the wonderful artworks it houses.

For more information see www.nationalgallery.ie

By Niamh Murphy