Bookshop of the Month: The National Gallery Bookshop

After a sojourn in the north, Yale’s Bookshop of the Month returns to London for October, with the National Gallery Bookshop. One of the premier specialist art bookshops in London, the National Gallery Bookshop caters to a huge audience through considered curation and selection. The building’s not too bad either.

With the National Gallery’s expansive new Rembrandt exhibition starting on the 15th October, accompanied by a beautiful catalogue Rembrandt: The Late Works, we sat down with Jan Green, National Gallery publisher and Paul McLoughlin, the shop’s book buyer, to discuss the ethos behind the bookshop.


Interview with Jan Green and Paul McLoughlin

Q: What is special about a gallery bookshop and how is it different from a general bookshop?

PM: A gallery bookshop will always be inspired by the collection and exhibitions held within the gallery. ‘Curated’ had been the buzz word in book selling for a while but gallery shops have always been highly curated, with carefully selected books reflecting and enhancing the museum they sit within. Books also have to fit in with postcard, prints and a lot of other products. A perfect shopping basket in a gallery store could include something like a book, a postcard and a fridge magnet.

JG: With a bookshop on our doorstep, we have a strong voice as publishers in decisions about display and promotion. And it works in both directions – through conversations with retail staff (and a bit of discreet eavesdropping on the shopfloor!) we learn more about our customers.

Q: How do you cater to the expectations of your audience?

PM: With so many different types of visitor to the gallery, of all ages and with differing levels of interest and knowledge of art, we have to make sure we have books that appeal to everyone. With regular buying meetings with publishers we make sure we have the latest children’s, art history and artist monograph titles arriving into our stores, enhancing our core stock. We also ensure that our bookshop staff have the information they need to answer any book related questions our customers may have.

JG: As the National Gallery’s publishers we have to publish for a very wide range of readers – so that includes exhibition catalogues, guidebooks (some in foreign languages for our many overseas visitors), and for scholars, our collection catalogues.


Q: What is your favourite painting in The National Gallery?

PM: At the moment I keep going back to look at Gustave Courbet’s Still Life with Apples and a Pomegranate. Painted in 1871-2, while Courbet was imprisoned after involvement with the Paris Commune of 1871, it’s a simple subject painted with immense skill. Saying that, the answer to this question could easily have been Jan van Eyck’s Portrait of a Man (Self Portrait?), Caravaggio’s The Supper at Emmaus or The Wilton Diptych. In every room of the Gallery there’s fantastic painting.

JG: It would have to be either Thomas Jones’s A Wall in Naples, which looks amazingly modern, or Correggio’s Madonna of the Basket, for its beautiful colouring, but either of them would look great on my wall.

Q: From the point of view of the bookshop, what is the most exciting exhibition that has been held in The National Gallery?

PM: The Leonardo exhibition in the winter of 2011 was phenomenal. On every day of the exhibition  queues would start forming at 7am, by 10am the queue had stretched from the entrance to the exhibition all the way through to the other side of Trafalgar Square. It was an incredibly busy time where we sold 72,000 books, including 42,000 of the exhibition catalogue. If, during the Rembrandt exhibition, we see anything like we saw during Leonardo then we’ll be in for an exciting next few months.

JG: In terms of numbers, it has to be Leonardo, but the recent Making Colour exhibition was also a huge surprise – visitors loved the range of books and merchandise, and all of it sold incredibly well. We’re also very excited about the forthcoming exhibition, Rembrandt: The Late Works, and we’re very proud of our accompanying book, which we expect to sell extremely well.


Rembrandt: The Late Works is available now from Yale University Press.


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