Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Art Bookshop Review: The National Gallery Bookshop

The National Gallery Bookshop
all photos copyright Katherine Tyrrell

There's nothing better than a browse round a bookshop after you've been to see an exhibition or a favourite painting. In the National Gallery you have the choice of three shops - however the one located in the Sainsbury Wing of the National Gallery in London has recently had a "makeover". Its focus on art books has now been underlined and emphasised in terms of design.

I thought people who have visited in the past would like to see what it now looks like and those that have never visited might now be tempted! You can see a series of photos which I took - with the permission of the manager - on Flickr here National Gallery Bookshop and I comment on the changed below.

Name of Art Bookshop: National Gallery - Sainsbury Wing Shop
Address: The National Gallery (Sainsbury Wing), Trafalgar Square, London WC2N 5DN
Website: Shop Love Art
(National Gallery Company Ltd.)
Of interest to: art lovers, exhibition visitors, art students, art teachers, and art history buffs
Think Again?
  • Focus of books tends to be on what the gallery covers ie art by artists prior to 1900
Summary: An art bookshop which is well worth a visit. Besides fulfilling its role of helping to explain the art in exhibitions and on display, it also has a much wider range of good quality art books. Visual accessories in the form of postcards and prints complement but do not overpower the bookshop.
Sainsbury Wing shop: located on the ground floor of the Sainsbury Wing, offers an unparalleled selection of art books and gifts related to the collection. The book department offers both the full range of National Gallery publications and several thousand books from other publishers, making this one of the premier specialist art bookshops in London. As well as a wide selection of postcards and posters, the shop also offers a regularly updated variety of specially commissioned gift items produced exclusively for the National Gallery.
National Gallery Company website
The layout of the shop has been completely changed. Very clear zones have been created for different aspects of the shop and the flow - within the bookshop part - works really well. In my view it's got a much better lay-out and it's much easier to find the type of book or the topic you're interested in. Dark bookcases have also been introduced which signal from outside in the Lobby area that this is a shop with some serious reading materials and lots of books! Previously a casual glance into the shop would have left you thinking it wasn't much different to the other two shops whereas there were in fact a lot of serious art books around - you just couldn't see them too easily from the entrance!

As you walk in from the lobby to the Sainsbury Wing, on the left is a cash desk and a whole bank of postcards which are displayed so it's very easy to see what's available - and it's a lot!

Art Postcards

On the right and in front of you are what one might term the gift items and gift books.

Towards the west wall (the one with the windows) are banks of bookcases. They've mixed these up in terms of size and introduced 'pouffes' for people to sit down on while they browse the books. It only needs a sofa and a coffee machine and you'd think you were in a rather upmarket Borders!

In either corner to the far right of the entrance are the "Print on Demand" fine art giclee print shop and the "ready to go" giclee prints on paper and canvas. Also up this end is a good selection of art journals.

What sort of books does it stock?

I think it needs to be remembered that this is a bookshop in a national gallery. This naturally influences the type of stock since there obviously need to be links to both the collection and the exhibitions. Having said that it's an excellent bookshop to go to if you want a book in any of the areas in which it specialises (or you can order online!)

Links in the text below are to photographs that I took last week (with the kind permission of Greg Sanderson, the manager - thanks Greg!) and which are now part of my latest set of photos on Flickr - National Gallery Bookshop (Set).

National Gallery publications: Pride of place goes to the National Gallery exhibition catalogues and the National Gallery publications. They don't stock all the catalogues for all the exhibitions - presumably because some sold out. However if you missed an exhibition and now want the catalogue this is the place to go.

There are some excellent titles in the National Gallery publications series - I like the way they focus on making a topic within art accessible. An example is the National Gallery Pocket Guide Flowers and Fruit. However I must confess I tend to wait for their sales, which are held twice a year (in the summer and around the end of the calendar year) and buy then. The main point about the bookshop in relation to these titles is that it's difficult to find the whole range anywhere else and this is the place to come and browse!

Exhibition catalogues: They also stock exhibition catalogues from other galleries and other countries. This is the place I try first if I'm trying to pick up a catalogue from one of the national galleries in the USA or Australia. These don't always arrive at the same time the exhibition is on. I've always thought they tend to get distributed after the exhibition is over. If you can't get to see the exhibition, then the catalogue is the next best thing!

Guides to art: They stock a good range of each of the 'guides' to art which they stock. Notable in terms of numbers are their own National Gallery publications, the Taschen Basics series which must represent the best value for money of any art book publisher and the Getty Guides to Imagery

Some of the bookshelves

It also is one of the very few places in the UK which stocks the new catalogues of art in public ownership. You can read more about this in today's post on Making A Mark (later today - I'll post the link here when posted).

Books about Artists: Considerable shelfspace is also given over to good quality books (from any publisher) about individual artists. These tend to be about artists who've featured in some way in an exhibition in the gallery but this is not always the case.

Art Instruction Books / Theory and techniques : The shop only offers a small selection of art instruction books covering drawing and sketching and painting in acrylics, oil and watercolours. They are generally good quality books and/or new publications. For example it includes Sarah Simblet's excellent book on Anatomy for the artist. I also noticed it had a very new release - Ann Kullberg's Colored Pencil Secrets for Success and I came home and sent Ann an email to tell her!

Both art theory and art techniques are covered by the books in stock. I noted they had a particularly good section on colour.

In summary - I think the revamp has created a much improved layout and scope for easier navigation and access to the items people want to find, review - and maybe buy! The shop continues to maintain a high standard in terms of the nature of the books it holds in stock and on the shelves.

For the serious browsers amongst us, having anywhere to sit down is always a boon, however if the budget will stretch to it, it would be really great if the odd chair with back support could be introduced! As an added incentive maybe I should share that I buy more books in bookshops where I can sit down and feel at ease!

Note: This is the first in a set of reviews of art bookshops. If you've done a review of an art bookshop which you'd like to share please contact and I'll post a summary (in the proforma table - see above) and a link to your review.

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