Selfies in The National Gallery take away from the art

How fortunate I am: my favourite picture gallery is in the city where I live. The National Gallery has—or had until recently— much to recommend it. Architecture by William Wilkins, whose Greek Revival details are scholarly to a fault (the fault being that the building is too reticent to command Trafalgar Square); galleries of different moods, from rich to austere; excellent temporary exhibitions; and a sound policy on cameras.

Visits to the Louvre may be interrupted by a tap on the shoulder to persuade you to step aside while someone snaps wife or girlfriend in front of the painting you’ve been enjoying, making it impossible to see the works for the pop of flashes. Good for the National Gallery. No photography there.

Well, now it’s given in. London is suffering a selfie epidemic. You can’t walk down one of the West End thoroughfares without colliding with a person who has stopped abruptly in order to pose in front of his mobile phone. Now, the narcissists will be at it in the National Gallery. A temple to the eternal values of great art has capitulated to the public’s craving for ephemerality and showing off. Couldn’t the gallery have created a selfie room, hung with reproductions? Nobody in the selfie-taking world would have known the difference.

* This article was first published in Country Life on August 20 2014

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