The 12 most iconic paintings in The National Gallery, by gallery curator Dr Francesca Whitlum-Cooper

Dr Francesca Whitlum-Cooper joins the Country Life Podcast to share how she and the team at the National Gallery picked the 12 most iconic pieces from the collection to celebrate the gallery's 200th anniversary.

On May 10, 1824, Britain’s National Gallery opened its doors for the first time. This year, to celebrate its bicentenary, the gallery is hosting a whole string of events and celebrations to market the occasion.

Of all these, perhaps the boldest and most eye-catching is National Treasures, a selection of just 12 from among the thousands of masterpieces in the National Gallery’s collection. The 12 paintings will be on display at 12 galleries around Britain, bringing art to people across the land, and making the National Gallery truly national.

But how do you go about choosing the 12 most famous paintings from such an astonishing collection? It’s an almost impossible task, and one that fell to one of the gallery’s curators, Dr Francesca Whitlum-Cooper, who led the team that whittled down the almost countless options to the final 12.

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Francesca joined James Fisher on the Country Life Podcast to talk about how it was done. She also shares the story of her life and career, how she came to be at the gallery, what art really means to us — and, of course, the practicalities and philosophy that underlies the idea of sending a string of artworks worth tens of millions of pounds across the country to be seen by fresh eyes.

You can find out more about the National Gallery, and the NG200 celebrations, at the gallery’s website, And you can see the 12 paintings that made the cut for the National Treasures exhibitions at

The 12 paintings in the National Gallery’s National Treasures collection, and where you can see them

  • The Wilton Diptych (about 1395‒9)
    Ashmolean Museum, Oxford
  • Self Portrait at the Age of 34 (1640) by Rembrandt (1606‒1669)
    Brighton Museum and Art Gallery
  • The Hay Wain (1821) by John Constable (1776‒1837)
    Bristol Museum and Art Gallery
  • Venus and Mars (about 1485) by Sandro Botticelli (about 1445-1510)
    The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge
  • Self Portrait as Saint Catherine of Alexandria (about 1615‒17) by Artemisia Gentileschi (1593‒1654 or later)
    Ikon Gallery, Birmingham
  • The Fighting Temeraire (1839) by Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851)
    Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle
  • The Umbrellas (about 1881‒6) by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841‒1919)
    Leicester Museum and Art Gallery
  • The Stonemason’s Yard (about 1725) by Canaletto (1697‒1768)
    The National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth
  • A Young Woman standing at a Virginal (about 1670‒2) by Johannes Vermeer (1632‒1675)
    Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
  • The Supper at Emmaus (1601) by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571‒1610)
    Ulster Museum, Belfast
  • The Rokeby Venus (1647‒51) by Diego Velázquez (1599‒1660)
    Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool
  • The Water-Lily Pond (1899) by Claude Monet (1840‒1926)
    York Art Gallery

Episode credits:

  • Host: James Fisher
  • Guest: Dr Francesca Whitlum-Cooper
  • Editor and Producer: Toby Keel
  • Music: JuliusH via Pixabay
  • Special thanks: Adam Wilbourn