Does anyone else share this little thing of mine about trying to be a tourist in my own city? When we are lucky enough to be abroad, we bash the shoe leather hard in FOMO (fear of missing out) on the best monument, painting, stunning vista or local restaurant that the place we are in has to offer. However, too often we ignore what’s on our own doorstep. It’s always going to be there isn’t it?
Whenever I’m asked about what makes London, my home city, so special I find myself naming galleries among the long list of the capital’s virtues that is headed by its vibrant, liberal diversity. But, how often do I actually go? Who has the time?
So, forget your Tate and Saatchi, there I was with the elder daughter ambling around the much overlooked, distinctly not trendy National Gallery, and deliberately so, because we haven’t been there together in years. Perhaps ever.
We go backwards, as is our wont. We start at the most modern paintings and work our way backwards through art history. It’s partly so that when we succumb to that unique schlepping around galleries tiredness we’ll be at the ever-so-samey religious paintings and not feel guilty about quitting.
In truth, the other reason is that we won’t have to spend awkward time with the same old annoying people who got in our way in gallery 1 by the time you get to gallery 32. It makes navigating the map a bit trying though.
So Monet and Manet, Van Gogh and Cezanne, the under-rated Seurat and the over-rated Stubbs (oh look, another horse) all breeze by in reverse chronological order via Vermeer and Canaletto, until we find Leonardo and Botticelli in the Sainsbury wing.
Maybe it’s because we got into that long Rubenesque discussion - you know, how notions of female beauty have so greatly changed from his figures to Rosie Huntingdon-Whitely – that we repressed our FOMO and decided to miss a few artists out en route, notably those “boring” Flemish, and Gainsborough and Van Dyck. More fool us.
Philip Mould would have been appalled – and, rightly so. Philip, who I’ve known for years, is the portraiture expert on Antiques Roadshow, among other attributes. He worked on a programme about Van Dyck with presenter Fiona Bruce that led to Ms Bruce being able to spot that a £400 painting brought by a priest to their Cirencester Roadshow was actually a £400,000 Van Dyck.
Which is why, dear reader, that I will be spending my new year’s eve rooting through the dusty detritus in my Ma’s loft, flicking at her ancient crockery with my fingernail in the forlorn hope that one ping might mean a Ming.
FOMO? That will teach me to repress it. And, that will teach me not to be lazy. There’s my resolution for 2014 sorted: don’t skip the Van Dycks, because one day that self-portrait may be staring you in the face. Sort of. Happy New Year!
Stefano Hatfield is editorial director of London Live