Last updated: 28 September 2012
Showcasing the paintings collection, this gallery includes a selection of portraits, battle scenes and domestic interiors, horse portraits and camp scenes, dating from 1630 to 2000, by some of Britain’s greatest artists.
The 34-metre long gallery displays the ‘jewels’ of the picture collection, with the Museum’s most popular work, Charles Fripp’s ‘Battle of Isandlwana’, at its centre. Providing a window on events in history, subjects range across the Empire, from the Western Front to the Crimea, and from India to China. Portraits include commanders and ordinary soldiers alike, and other works touch on themes associated with military life such as separation and reunion.
Reflecting the strengths of the Collection, the emphasis of this eclectic mix is primarily on the 18th and 19th century, featuring paintings by masters such as Sir Joshua Reynolds, Sir Thomas Gainsborough, the American Benjamin West, and Sir Henry Raeburn. Other famous artists represented are Lady Butler, Henry Nelson O’Neill, and Rex Whistler, whose poignant 1940 self-portrait in his first uniform conveys a sense of personal conflict, torn between duty and hesitancy at the awful commitment he had made.
The gallery also houses examples of campaign furniture, such as the unusual three-tier campaign chest of Brigadier-General John Nicholson, who was killed in the Indian Mutiny. Included in the portrait sculpture is Sir John Steell’s graceful head and shoulders of Florence Nightingale in marble: it proved so iconic in its day that it was revered during her lifetime by Crimean veterans.
The Art Gallery is the venue for the Museum’s programme of free Lunchtime Lectures each Thursday, and may be hired for events and corporate hospitality, together with the adjacent White Space. Images of the paintings (where not restricted by artist’s copyright) can be ordered from the Picture Library and Print Shop. Museum staff also offer academic talks on aspects of military art and the collections.