If you can't get to the National Gallery... it will come to you

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The Independent Culture

The best most travellers can expect from a departure lounge is a dog-eared copy of a celebrity magazine and lukewarm cappuccino in a cardboard cup.

But, for train passengers bound for Paris or Brussels, those days are gone. Yesterday, the Eurostar terminal at St Pancras was transformed into a highbrow arts arena thanks to a hundred images from the National Gallery's collection and six giant plasma screens.

People on their way out of London can now sit down at purpose-built coffee tables in the station and flick through an electronic library of images, ranging from art history blockbusters by Caravaggio, Van Gogh, Vermeer and Titian to more obscure works. They then select an image, which is projected on to a 9ft screen.

Those with a fondness for detail can zoom in to study the pointillism of Seurat's Bathers at Asnieres or discover the visual clues to marital hypocrisy in William Hogarth's Marriage A-la-Mode: 2. The Tête à Tête, in which a drunken husband is slumped in his chair while his unfaithful wife rests after her meeting with her lover.

When viewed up close, Claude Monet's The Beach at Trouville reveals signs showing the speed at which the artist worked to fix on canvas the outdoor scene before the weather changed.

A spokesman from Eurostar said that the installation, called Station Masters, could in future emerge at other stations across Europe with works from their countries' respective galleries.

Nicholas Penny, the director of the National Gallery, said the idea was a continuation of a wider initiative by the institution to showcase artwork to the public in a "real world" environment. It follows another of the gallery's schemes in which full-size reproductions of works in gilt frames were placed around Soho and Covent Garden.

The point with this project, said Dr Penny, was to surprise the public into paying attention to the artwork. "This is not a coffee table book which no one looks at. It's a book built in a coffee table," he said.

He denied it was a flagrant "advertisement" for the gallery but said it was an attempt to introduce art into the lives of the public by stealthy "subterfuge". "It's a fascinating way in which we can increase public awareness in the gallery," he said.

The National Gallery is also in discussion with London Underground to reproduce and hang a number of paintings from its collection, as well as that of the National Portrait Gallery, on the platforms of the Bakerloo Line at Charing Cross.

Richard Hill, the brand and design manager at Eurostar, said when the train company first decided to launch the digital art gallery, they took it to a number of gallery directors, including Sir Nicholas Serota at the Tate in London who pointed them in the direction of the National Gallery's collection.

If the scheme proves popular after its three-year tenure in the departures lounge, Eurostar is hoping to attract the attention of other major galleries.

But not everyone saw the usefulness of viewing artworks from a city they were leaving behind. Navdeep Sidhu, from west London, who was travelling to Paris for work, said she would have preferred to sample works from the Louvre in Paris to whet her appetite for her city of destination.

"It feels like it's the wrong way round. I was thinking maybe they could've put paintings from Paris up here and these paintings the other end, so people could get excited about where they were going, not what they were leaving behind," she said. "Having these up here makes me think 'Damn, I missed seeing that at the gallery and now it's too late'."