Continuing the strange, sad compulsion to proffer a little review of every free-entry museum gift shop/tourist attraction in London (until I get bored), I investigated the offerings of two attractions on Trafalgar Square, The National Gallery and its oft-ignored little sister, The National Portrait Gallery.
There is no need for a map of my route on this, because they are more or less in the same (vast) building.
Number of gift shops: 2 (one general, one basement bookshop).
Perhaps overshadowed by its larger, more famous neighbour, the National Portrait Gallery’s is a small and unassuming gift shop following in the tradition of tat, mid-level gifts, more expensive jewellery, and postcards. It however also includes music, busts, and a surprisingly broad children’s selection. Many of the children’s items are diaspora from the Imperial War Museum and some look more at home at the Globe Theatre, but all in all it is good for what it is; I was taken with a Tudor-style fan, and the paper-play theatres for kids. There is a smattering of books, but the majority of the book offerings are downstairs in a separate bookshop.
This is apparently an independent bookseller, although styled very much after an upmarket Waterstones. Its sections are Art, Biography, History, Fashion, and Photography, and there is a rack of “music for book lovers”-type CDs apparently compiled by the Gallery. Quite what these comprise I didn’t check. The shop itself is narrow and not easy to manoeuvre and though it is served by a lift may not be wholly suitable if you have mobility issues that require external support.
Number of gift shops: 2
Books and postcards line the walls: there is a print-your-own-poster machine from which deliveries to home can be ordered, and central stands featuring merchandise relating to more famous artists on display at the Gallery, notably: Leonardo da Vinci, Vincent Van Gogh, and Claude Monet.
It boasts proportionally fewer children’s items them its small neighbour, but more items of interest, including the Heyland & Whittle hand cream (rose & neroli) which sent me on this weird review course in the first place; themed jewellery after various named artists (sunflower rings and the like, for Van Gogh); a model Vitruvian Man; a globe…
Disappointingly the shop also plays host to a rash of conspiracy hokum books drawing on the art of Leonardo da Vinci; masquerading as non-fiction too! But one supposes a sale is a sale, and they are at least related to the collection.
The basement/vaults shop.
This gives the impression of having much more child-oriented merchandise on display, and while the majority of wares are crossover or trickle-down from upstairs, there is more in the lower cost bracket than up there, and – obviously of huge importance to me – the Heyland & Whittle handcream is of different scent (olive & fig).
Downstairs has a modest selection of art supplies – including paints and an easel – and some more general ‘quality’ jewellery that is missing upstairs, along with pre-printed posters. These last used to be upstairs, if I remember correctly. But what really charmed and impressed me, and has led to a hearty thumbs up for the whole gallery shop, is the models of figures from Hieronymous Bosch’s “Garden of Earthly Delights” (specifically the third panel)! Marvellous, humorous, and a wonderful idea which raised a real smile.
Service-wise, however, I could live without being stalked around both shops by black-clad students throughout my visits. They always look so intense.