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Visitors asked to picture 'staying in' as National Gallery's new digital programme brings art to the home during closure
Jean-Siméon Chardin, The House of Cards (Portrait of Jean-Alexandre Le Noir), about 1740-1 © The National Gallery, London.

LONDON.- The National Gallery is bringing its pictures to our homes in a major new digital programme.

Inspired by the legacy of the Myra Hess concerts, which took place at the Gallery during the Second World War, the programme – produced entirely from home – across its social media, website and emails celebrates the creative possibilities of staying in and the ways that art can help mental wellbeing during the coronavirus lockdown.

The Gallery serves a digital audience of over 10 million people every year, with a digital reach of hundreds of millions of people. After record increases in visits to some of its online content of over 2,000% on last year, following closure of its Trafalgar Square site, the Gallery’s new digital programme - with a tagline The Nation’s Gallery, in the nation’s homes - looks at the different ways people can look at, use and respond to art wherever they are. Through this digital initiative the Gallery will be open 24/7 with free art for everyone online.

In A curated look, staff give talks on the Gallery’s pictures from their living rooms; the first inspires people to look at the way artists have painted what is around them indoors. Dr Francesca Whitlum-Cooper, the Gallery’s Associate Curator of Paintings 1600-1800, talks about paintings from the Gallery’s collection that celebrate domestic activities such as playing music and card games. Among the works Dr Whitlum-Cooper discusses are Chardin's The House of Cards, Manet's Eva Gonzalès, Degas's Combing the Hair (‘La Coiffure’) and Vermeer's Young Woman Standing at a Virginal.

As many people under lockdown are finding comfort in nature around their homes and in their gardens, another upcoming episode in the series looks at three expansive rural landscapes in the collection that take us from morning to night. As well as Rubens's A View of Het Steen in the Early Morning and Corot's The Four Times of Day; Night this talk includes that most treasured evocation of the British countryside, Constable's The Hay Wain.

A series of online tutorials on ‘slow looking’ develops the Gallery’s mindfulness programme by showing online visitors how to look at pictures in depth and explore hidden details. The first of these asks us to take a closer, slower look at Turner’s Rain Steam and Speed – The Great Western Railway.

In Make and create, viewers are given suggestions and instructions for making and creating artworks at home, inspired by the collection. In the first episode, families are shown how to use their old newspapers and magazines to create a collage inspired by Rousseau’s painting of a tiger prowling in the undergrowth, Surprised! In an upcoming episode, one of the Gallery’s most popular paintings, Van Gogh's Sunflowers, is the starting point to explore four fun drawing techniques for people to try at home.

These different ways to access great art are free and available at any hour of the day. Visitors can get the latest articles and features straight to their inbox – by simply signing up via the website to get regular email updates. We’ll also be emailing people with exhibition news and reopening information as soon as it’s available. The programme is launched as figures announced by the Gallery today show that its virtual tour pages are up 506% compared to the period before the lockdown (1 March 2020 – 18 March 2020). When compared to the same time last year they are up 1,985%. The Google virtual tour of the Gallery is up 642% on the period prior to the Government’s instructions to stay at home, an increase of 3,046% on the same time last year.

The Gallery’s collection pages (where you can zoom into paintings in detail and read about them in depth) have received 58% more views than the previous period (1 March 2020 -18 March 2020) and 10% more than this time last year.

Among the increased visits are those for behind-the-scenes films of conservation and scientific work and its Picture of the month films. This feature has added resonance to the Gallery during its present closure; when the building was last temporarily shut in parts during the Second World War, it was decided that one painting should be chosen each month to stay in London for the public to enjoy during the hostilities while the rest of the collection remained in storage elsewhere.

Dr Gabriele Finaldi, Director of the National Gallery, says: ‘The last time the Gallery closed the doors on the pictures for a long period was during the Second World War when the pianist Dame Myra Hess organised a musical programme here. She planned a concert at lunchtime every single weekday throughout the war and continued into 1946. It is a very remarkable National Gallery story and we consider ourselves the heirs of Myra Hess’s spirit as we plan our activities while the Gallery’s building is temporarily closed. With this exciting new digital programme you will see that we are open all hours, with free art for everyone. So do join us as there is lots to discover. You bring the tea; we will bring the art.’

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