Pop-Up Exhibition Brings Masterpieces From London’s National Gallery Outdoors

An open-air display in Trafalgar Square features more than 20 life-size reproductions of works by Vincent van Gogh, Titian and more

View of the pop-up exhibition in London's Trafalgar Square
The open-air exhibition features more than 20 life-size reproductions of the London museum's most famous paintings. National Gallery

London’s National Gallery boasts an impressive array of art. Founded in 1824, the museum is home to more than 2,300 paintings spanning the 13th through 20th centuries. Highlights of the collection include the most comprehensive assortment of Italian Renaissance paintings outside of Italy and works by such luminaries as Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael and Vermeer.

This summer, visitors to London can appreciate the gallery’s art without actually going inside. Now through September 2, a pop-up exhibition in Trafalgar Square invites art lovers to view more than 20 life-size reproductions of some of the most recognizable works in the museum’s collection, from Sandro Botticelli’s Venus and Mars (1485) to Vincent van Gogh’s Sunflowers (1888).

“The idea came from the experience of Covid, the pandemic and confinement,” curator Christine Riding tells Euronews’ Debora Gandini, per Google Translate. “Hence the need to exhibit outdoor collections that were [previously] found inside.”

As BBC News reports, the installation is part of the Westminster Council’s Inside Out festival, a new showcase featuring outdoor art, entertainment and cultural events. Running through October 31, the festival seeks to draw tourists back to London’s West End.

Pop-Up Exhibition Brings Masterpieces From London's National Gallery Outdoors
Titian, Bacchus and Ariadne, 1522-23 Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

“By bringing a series of life-size replicas onto the North Terrace of Trafalgar Square, all visitors to the area can enjoy a taste of the treasures we have inside the National Gallery,” says the gallery’s director, Gabriele Finaldi, in a statement. “For curious minds wanting to know more, the paintings can be scanned and a new world of discovery will be delivered to your phone.”

Visitors can use the free Smartify app to scan QR codes and learn more about the works on display, writes Felicity Carter for Forbes. The show is also included in Art of London’s augmented reality art trail.

The reproductions on view range in size from about 3 to 6.5 feet wide, making them readily visible from a distance, according to the statement. The largest work in the open-air gallery is a replica of Titian’s Bacchus and Ariadne (1520-23), which renders the Roman myth in the artist’s characteristically rich hues.

Per the statement, the Inside Out festival also includes events like Sketch on the Square, a series of free, daily art activities focused on mindfulness and wellbeing, and “Piccadilly Art Takeover,” a public art exhibition hosted by the Royal Academy of Arts and Art of London.

Pop-Up Exhibition Brings Masterpieces From London's National Gallery Outdoors
Joseph Mallord William Turner, The Fighting Temeraire, 1839 Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Among the highlights of the National Gallery’s pop-up display is a reproduction of Joseph Mallord William Turner’s The Fighting Temeraire (1839), which depicts a hazy warship sailing into harbor at daybreak. The gold, blue and gray painting is one of Turner’s most well-preserved works, likely because the artist relied on traditional oil painting techniques rather than the experimental methods he usually used, notes the gallery on its website.

“When [Turner] died in 1851 he bequeathed it and the rest of the paintings he owned to the nation,” wrote scholar Abram Fox for Smarthistory in 2015. “It quickly became seen as an image of Britain’s relationship to industrialization. Steam power has proved itself to be much stronger and more efficient than old technology, but that efficiency came with the cost of centuries of proud tradition.”

Also on display is a copy of van Gogh’s Sunflowers, which depicts a vase filled with lurid blossoms painted in yellow ocher and Veronese green. According to the Van Gogh Museum, the flowers represented gratitude to the famed Impressionist artist, who created a total of five large canvases featuring the eponymous flowers.

Other reproductions in the show—aptly marketed as a display of the “nation’s favorite paintings”—include John Constable’s The Hay Wain (1821), Jan van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait (1434) and Hans Holbein the Younger’s Portrait of Christina of Denmark (1538).