advertisement

A 15-min. train ride from Victoria and an 8-min. walk lands you in a pretty villagelike enclave of South London, where a leafy stroll acclimates one to contemplation and appreciation. Here you’ll find one of the world’s most vital collections of Old Master paintings of the 1600s and 1700s, kept in just a few rooms. Magnanimous donors made it England’s first public gallery (opened 1817), designed with a surplus of light by Sir John Soane (who also left us his own cramped museum;. A visit is almost indescribably serene, the better to stare into the Cheshire Cat face of one of its star masterpieces, Rembrandt’s A Girl at a Window—how did he capture her bemusedly frank expression? A handheld video tour unspools fascinating backstories of 10 works you might otherwise pass by, such as the portrait of young Venetia Stanley, which exists because she was discovered dead in bed and her distraught husband summoned Van Dyck to capture her beautiful corpse. Twist ending: Her beloved might have poisoned her. At the airy cafe, grab tea with Devon clotted cream for £6.