If Paintings Could Talk, By Michael Wilson

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Though alphabetic in order, this reader-friendly guide to the National Gallery is unconventional in every other respect. Under "Comeback Queen", we find Delaroche's 1833 narrative painting "The Execution of Lady Jane Grey". Lost in the gallery's cellar for 50 years, it was enthusiastically received when resurrected in 1973.

Even more of an embarrassment is Van Gogh's "Long Grass with Butterflies" (1890), categorised under "Topsy-Turvy". In 1965, a 15-year-old schoolgirl pointed out that it was upside down. "Oh, and how do you know?" said the dismissive chief attendant. A postcard proved her right.

We learn why Constable's "Hay Wain" is in a stream: it prevented wood joints drying out in summer. Packed with interest, this work is a rarity: an art book that will be read.