Soundscapes at The National Gallery

at The National Gallery
Open Now
Until 6th September

For the National Gallery’s latest show, six musicians and sound artists have each chosen a painting from the NG’s collection and created a piece of music or a sound installation in response to it. The result is an exhibition called Soundscapes where the chosen paintings and the musical responses are presented together. And it is a beautiful and mesmerising thing.

The six were given complete free rein to choose any work they liked from The National Gallery. And I mean ANY work, one of the many notable and extraordinary facts about this exhibition is that some of the paintings chosen are not the also-rans of the nation’s art collection but the Derby winners, like Holbein’s The Ambassadors (chosen by artist Susan Philipsz) and Cezanne’s The Great Bathers (chosen by composer Gabriel Yared), two of the most prized paintings in the gallery.


The exhibition is organised as six separate rooms, heavily soundproofed from each other, accessed through a network of dark corridors. The corridors giving you time to leave one soundscape behind before meeting the next. The rooms are also dark with the chosen artwork lit like prized jewel in the blackness, allowing the visitor to focus on it without other visual distractions.

Remix artist and DJ Jamie xx chose a 1892 pointillist work by Belgian artist Theo van Rysselberghe which he has responded to by creating a sound piece that changes depending on where you are standing in the room, the music is clear further away from the painting and breaks up as you walk closer to the painting, just like the effect of pointillism.


In response to Finnish artist Akseli Gallen-Kallela’s stunning 1905 Lake Keitele (above), the renowned sound recordist Chris Watson has created a work that is, as you might expect from the master of sound recording at BBC Natural History, made up of sounds from the natural world. There is water lapping, birdsong and silence but the work is interjected with the ‘yoik’ of Finland’s native Sami people, a haunting and melancholic sound that elevates the work beyond the ordinary. The work is reminiscent of Watson’s earlier recording of the sounds of the Northumberland coast, In St Cuthbert’s Time, and just as moving.


One of the most extraordinary responses in Soundscapes is the 3D model that recreates the interior of Antonello da Messina’s Saint Jerome in his Study. Installation and sound artists Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller have done an amazing job of bringing this 15th century painting to three dimensional life. Looking through an opening, a miniature world is revealed complete with tiny objects on Jerome’s shelves and windows giving views on a landscape. Voices, birdsong and footfalls can be heard all around, creating a complete visual and auditory experience. It is a remarkable piece of work, worth the admission price on its own.

Soundscapes is a brilliantly original idea, one that has been well executed by the National Gallery and offering something quite different from the usual art exhibition. Highly recommended.

Exhibition is on until 6th September 2015

Full price: £10
Senior/Concession/Disabled visitors (carers FREE): £9
Job seeker/Student/Art Fund/12–18s: £6
Under 12s (ticket required): FREE
Members: FREE

Opening times:
Daily 10am–6pm (last admission 5pm)
Fridays 10am–9pm (last admission 8.15pm)

The National Gallery,
Trafalgar Square,
London WC2N 5DN
Tel:020 7747 2885

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