Monday, 2 October 2017

Love Letters To Dublin: The National Gallery

There are too many posts that I need and want to write and, yet, here I am. Going off topic. Once again. However, there is a good reason. This is something I've been wanting to do for ages. I wanted to start writing about this city that I adore so much - about her eateries and views and places and people - but I was afraid of going off topic. Of ignoring my "brand".

Well, fuck it. I'm not a brand. I'm a person. And this is my blog.

I'm pretty sure that I've mentioned how much I love Dublin before. I've lived here for eight years now and I fall more deeply in love every time I look at it. But, then, that's the type of lover and person I am. The more I know - good and bad - the more I love. I love the bones of this city. I love its beautiful sides and ugly sides. I love it all: the streets, the trees, the parks, that special soft light that seems unique to it, the magic winter sunsets, the cawing seagulls, the culture and manageable hustle and bustle, the people, the buildings...

I could go on and on but the point is, this series needed to happen. I felt like I was going crazy, waxing lyrical about this place in my mind ad nauseum but keeping it largely inside. Because, the thing is, many of my peers have a complicated relationship with Dublin and my blind devotion can feel alienating. She has her flaws, that I will admit, and it can feel as though I am choking on a lack of opportunities, at times, and, yet. Yet, I still adore her and I felt the need to share the many reasons why. And as I always sound better on paper than in bumbling person, I thought it might be the way to convince those around me to look again, a little closer or better.

Which brings us to the National Gallery. I feel a special kind of ownership of and bond with the gallery, probably more than the average citizen on the street. As I studied Art History at Trinity College, it was not unusual for me to have classes in the actual gallery. We were neighbours and close ones, at that. The kind that take care of your pets when you go abroad. That close. And, then, at the tail end of my Masters, I began working as a guide at the gallery. I had extra access and spent even more time there: at least one day a week. I came to know many of the staff members, with whom I still chat when I visit now, and the works, on a rather personal level. Some became my favourites and I chose runts of the litter to champion and highlight on my tours. Working there made me a better speaker, more professional and confident. It changed me and I loved it all the more for doing so.

The National Gallery of Ireland is one of the most visited galleries in the world and is stuffed with a collection far richer than such a small country might normally boast. Through fascinating incident after happenstance, we came to have an extraordinarily beautiful building and amazing selection of works. As such, the gallery is also crammed full of anecdotes and charming stories. Like the lost Caravaggio (one of the finest works by his hand) that was discovered in Dublin after disappearing for centuries and donated on permanent loan to the gallery, the Vermeer that is just one of 35 in existence and was stolen twice, and Burton's Meeting On The Turret Stairs (a work I once got to have a ten minute one-on-one stare-off with), which has inspired tears and proposals.

Entrance remains free to the public (though this may need to be reconsidered at some point), it has great opening hours (generally 9.15am to 5.30pm but until 8.30 on Thursday and from 11am to 5.30pm on Sunday) and is housed in a recently reopened and refurbished stunning purpose-built 19th century building (with many later additions, including the lovely modern Millennium Wing). Excellent temporary exhibitions are regularly held that further bolster the incredible collection of the gallery and this year alone there have been major showcases of works by Caravaggio and Vermeer. Other events are held constantly to engage, educate, entertain and involve the public from free tours and talks to drawing classes for kids.

However, the best thing about the gallery has to be the atmosphere. The bright, beautiful spaces are a joy to walk through and it is incredibly wonderful to see how interested the public are; especially since the historic wings reopened this year. In fact, I visited the day that it reopened and couldn't get over how people working in the surrounding area all flooded in after they finished for the day. Everyone was so excited about it. And though I hate crowds, the way the rooms are arranged and the mood the space puts people in makes for the least annoying crowds I have ever seen. It's like there is a concentration of good cheer and good manners in the building. The attendants who walk the rooms are a big part of the experience and add to this atmosphere. They love their jobs (by and large), they love the gallery and the works and they are always happy to share information with tourists or strike up conversations with locals. It truly is a space that inspires good will.

When the historic wing reopened and I visited, I nearly cried. I was so overwhelmed by how good a job had been done and how worth the wait it had been. I was overjoyed that it seemed like others had missed it as much as me and that a space that had been part of what made me the woman I am was so full of life and happiness. I felt thankful that I got to grow up there and it felt like I was being reunited with a childhood friend who had grown up had never really changed. It felt like coming home.

If you are visiting Dublin, the National Gallery is a must-see and, without doubt, one of my favourite places in this truly beautiful city.

National Gallery of Ireland
Merrion Square W, Dublin 2
(01) 661 5133





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