National Gallery director Gabriele Finaldi reveals his favourite design hotspots

There is a Finaldi enclave in Catford, where the National Gallery director grew up and still lives, with his family nearby. His London hitlist includes the Dulwich Picture Gallery, the city’s churches and the Fourth Plinth...

After 13 years at the Prado in Madrid, Gabriele Finaldi, 51, moved back to London to become director of the National Gallery in August last year. His name points to his Italian heritage but he grew up in Catford, south-east London, where his parents ran a language school. He attended Dulwich College and was converted to art aged 16 when he saw Rembrandt’s rosy-cheeked Girl at a Window (1645) at Dulwich Picture Gallery. Later he studied at The Courtauld Institute of Art, playing keyboard in a jazz band to help support himself.


After 13 years we are back in Catford. We lived in East Dulwich when we were first married. Then we bought a house in Catford before we moved to Spain. Catford is very important for us because my parents and brothers and sisters are close by. One of my two married daughters is here — it has become a Finaldi enclave. We bought our house in a pretty dreadful state. There were 17 leaks so we called it “Leak House”. We did it up and rented it out. Now we are doing it up again.


Ours is still very much a functional house, because we’ve got children living with us and people coming to stay. There are quite nice things on the walls, mostly paintings and prints I brought back from Spain. One favourite piece is from Seville, a picture of Rest on the Flight into Egypt, painted on glass.


When I was first going out with my wife she bought me a reproduction of a Cycladic figure that was so well done you might have thought it was real. I’ve still got it 30 years on. She has lost her feet now — the figure not my wife — she has aged with us.


The Wellcome Collection museum has a great building. They put cushions on the staircases for students to sit and do their notes, and it’s always very interesting. At the Imperial War Museum I was quite astonished to find the bombed-out car from Iraq that the artist Jeremy Deller took on tour around the US. I’ve a lot of admiration for my old schoolfriend Jeremy, he’s an original thinker.


Gennaro, a wonderful Italian deli in Lewisham, used to be run by the family of friends of mine. It’s like walking into an Italian version of a Middle Eastern emporium.

Sweep of history: the British Library's wonderful collections (Getty)


An illuminated manuscript from the Book of Hours from the 15th century, that you can see at the British Library. The library building was hated by many people at first but I like it and its wonderful collection — from the Codex Sinaiticus, the world’s oldest Bible, to the Beatles manuscripts — is a real sweep of history.


I once thought the Lloyd’s building quite ugly but it has become a classic, it seems to have become embedded in the architecture of the City. Interesting things are happening at Elephant & Castle.

There’s a much greater sense now that you must build for communities and think about how people actually live together..

Fine collections: Gabriele Finaldi loves Dulwich Picture Gallery (Rex)


I consider Dulwich Picture Gallery to be my local. I love the beauty of the collection and the way it fits together with the architecture, and the very skilful extension. The Wallace Collection is marvellous, too, and Leighton House Museum. I was also thrilled by the Geffrye Museum and the way it looks at how your identity is bound up with the place you live in, the shape of the house and how you decorate it.


Second Canvas, a Prado app, lets you peel away layers of famous paintings to uncover secrets beneath. We’re looking at apps to bring people closer to the National Gallery’s collection.


Walk into a church, for music and wonderful architecture. It is a very special London combination: the brash modernity of the city and the little churches you find on nearly every street corner

The perfect pop-up: Gift Horse by Hans Haacke on Trafalgar Square’s Fourth Plinth, is a “brilliant way to connect art and people (Getty)


London remains a green city and that’s very exciting. As a family we love Blackheath and Greenwich Park which is so rich in history with The Queen’s House and the Maritime Museum, and the Royal Observatory. And of course the river forms part of the experience of the park as well.

That is something that has improved — the way the city relates to the Thames. In the past London lived with its back to the river, but now it embraces it. You can do a fantastic walk past Southwark Cathedral and the Globe and Bankside and the Tate. At Blackfriars Bridge the new train station is really exciting.


The Fourth Plinth is a brilliant way to make art connect with contemporary people.

  • The current exhibition, Delacroix and the Rise of Modern Art, is running at the National Gallery until May 22.


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