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The National Gallery's Portico Re-Opens
National Gallery Portico Entrance with lifting beam, engravers and hoardings showing Degas images. May/June 2005 © The National Gallery, London.

LONDON, ENGLAND.-On 24 September 2005, the National Gallery's main entrance on Trafalgar Square will re-open to the public after a year's closure. This follows the redevelopment of the Portico Entrance Hall and includes the restoration of the magnificent 19th-century decorative ceiling by J.D. Crace in the Staircase Hall. The development, by Dixon Jones Architects, involved a specialised team of conservation experts including Purcell Miller Tritton as historical consultants, and interior designer David Mlinaric who advised on decoration and the use of colour. Spectacular new spaces in the East Wing of the National Gallery opened in September 2004.

On entering the Gallery, visitors will now encounter a grand and dramatic open area, which previously was restricted and cramped. Structural masonry that divided the Portico Entrance Hall into three small compartments has been removed and innovative new engineering techniques have allowed the original supports for the Portico dome to be removed to create the enhanced space. In the Staircase Hall, white over-painting on the ceiling has been removed, the original decorative scheme by J. D. Crace meticulously reinstated, and the new marble casings to the staircase have been removed to reveal pink wall marble, sourced from quarries in Tunisia and originally used on the Gallery's main staircase by Sir John Taylor in 1887. Below the Portico on the ground floor a new multi-media area, with additional access to ArtStart and a coffee bar, has been created. The scheme includes new cloakroom and toilet facilities, the installation of air-conditioning and improved lighting.

The National Gallery's original building on its present site by William Wilkins opened at its present site in 1838, displaying the nation's very first public collection of paintings in five rooms, and catering for what was then 200,000 visitors per year. The Gallery and its collection has since evolved and expanded to provide the best access possible to its continually increasing number of visitors: almost 5 million in 2004. The first major expansion was in the 1870s, and was followed by further work ten years later. The building was again developed in 1911, and in the 1920s, the North Galleries were added in 1975 and the Sainsbury Wing opened in 1991.

Charles Saumarez Smith, Director of the National Gallery, said, 'I am delighted that the redevelopment of our entrance is nearing completion. The scheme provides the physical and experiential introduction that the Wilkins building, the paintings and our visitors deserve.'

Dixon Jones Architects were commissioned in 1999 to consider the long-term development of the building, and to explore the relationship between the National Gallery, its visitors and surroundings. With the National Gallery currently ranked as the most visited museum or gallery in the UK, the recent architectural work responds to a need for improved access and the provision of adequate space and facilities for the Gallery's users. While work has been taking place on the Portico project, the public have been entering the galleries through the newly created Sir Paul Getty Entrance and the Sainsbury Wing Entrance. The Getty Entrance was designed by Dixon Jones Architects as part of Phase I of the East Wing development completed in September 2004. The completion of Phase I also provided the Gallery with the impressive Annenberg Court, a dramatic daylit atrium, and an expanded spacious contemporary café and a new shop.

Dixon Jones Architects said, 'It has been a great privilege to work on this important building and for such a distinguished client. We hope that the work will give the public a main entrance that measures up to the splendour of the restored galleries with their outstanding collection of paintings.'

Dixon Jones Architects are celebrated for their work sensitively and appropriately creating new space within historical buildings, and have worked with many other major cultural institutions in the UK including the National Portrait Gallery and the Royal Opera House.

The National Gallery hosted special public preview tours of the new Portico space during Open House London on 17 September 2005, led by Gallery Director Charles Saumarez Smith, and architects Sir Jeremy Dixon and Edward Jones.

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