Revealed: £21m renaissance of National Gallery

For months it has been hidden from visitors to Trafalgar Square behind giant hoardings.

But on Sunday, the public finally gets to see the first phase of a £21m transformation of the National Gallery in London that restores art to the heart of the building. Eight Renaissance masterpieces, including four by Titian, now dominate the Central Hall, which, after the introduction of humidity control, is being used as a proper gallery for the first time in 30 years. State-of-the art visitor facilities, including an upmarket café, are now housed in what was a disused courtyard and a rabbit warren of corridors in the gallery's East Wing.

The wing also provides a direct entrance from Trafalgar Square, and a second at St Martin's Place to cope with the 4.6 million people who visit the gallery compared with the 200,000 anticipated when it opened in 1837.

Charles Saumarez Smith, the National Gallery's director, said yesterday that muchspace for public use had been opened up, which had put art back in the middle of the building - the first gallery most people saw.

The Vendramin Family and The Death of Actaeon by Titian were two of the greatest paintings of the 16th century. "They now occupy a pivotal place, focusing the visitor's attention on the Italian Renaissance, which is central to understanding the rest of the collection and, indeed, the development of Western art itself.'' If the money was available more unused space could be utilised.

Another seven internal courtyards will be opened to the public on Sunday, which has been called the Annenberg Court in recognition of the $5m (£3m) given by the Annenberg Foundation of Walter Annenberg, the media magnate and former US ambassador in London.

A long-term masterplan to utilise another three courtyards would cost up to £30m more, but would provide a temporary exhibition space triple the size of the galleries in the modern Sainsbury Wing, which are small and have no natural light. But the gallery must still raise more than £3m to pay for the current changes.

Nearly all of the money has been raised privately, including £10m from the Getty families in honour of the late American philanthropist Paul Getty.

The Heritage Lottery Fund rejected a funding application, which Dr Saumarez Smith said did not bode well for future capital developments because the Treasury had said there was no more money available. "Unless we can rely on funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund for capital projects, the development of London's major museums and galleries is going to be highly problematic,'' he said.

Next month, workers begin revamping the original entrance hall and will remove pillars to open it up. Work is due to finish within a year.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Mortgage Advisor - OTE £95,000

£40000 - £95000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Vehicle Inspectors / Purchasers

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Trainee Vehicle Inspectors / Pu...

Recruitment Genius: Vehicle Broker / Purchaser

£18000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £45,000

£18000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...

Day In a Page

Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

How to find gold

Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

Not born in the USA

Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
10 best balsamic vinegars

10 best balsamic vinegars

Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend
Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'