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The Most Magical Box in London

19 August 2014

By Francesca Fenn


One of the things I love about London is the fact that so many of its galleries and museums are free to go in. It is simple and delightful to pop in if you are passing, or if you have half an hour to kill. It's a privilege that many other cities around the world don't offer.


Here at Step Outside Guides, we know that children (and adults!) don't want to spend hours trailing round galleries, but a focussed 'pop-in' to see a particular work can be the start of a life-long familiarity with and love of art and artists. We do just that in some of our guides. For example, in The London Lion Hunt, having seen the Trafalgar Square lions, we take you in to the National Portrait Gallery just off the square to see a picture of Ballantyne creating the lions.


Today I want to tell you here about my favourite 'one-off' in the whole of London. It is the magical, miraculous Hoogstraten Box in the National Gallery. By my reckoning, this gorgeous thing should be one of the most famous works of art in London! It sits in room 25, a box on a stand measuring about 60cm x 60cm x 90cm, painted on the outside, and not looking like anything very special. But draw closer. One side of the box is open, and inside you can see all sorts of curious, distorted images of the inside of a 17th Century Dutch house. So far so good. But now, look through one of the peep holes - they are at each end. The distorted images will spring into place and you will see a perfect 3D house interior, complete with many rooms, and a dog! I find I keep looking through the peephole, then looking at the distorted painting, then back to the peephole for as long as time allows. These fascinating boxes were popular about 350 years ago, but there are very few left in the world now, and this is one of the very best.


If you have never taken your children to an art gallery, or have never been to one yourself, start with this! And you never know - something else might catch your eye while you're there! And if you like popping in and out of all sorts of places during the course of a day out, then a Step Outside Guide will be your perfect companion.

Nussbaums and Hoogstraten Box

Friends Kathy and Dave sharing the Hoogstraten Box.