Making pre-20th century art must-see again.
Making pre-20th century art must-see again.

Other galleries have swings and light shows. Other galleries have members’ rooms. Other galleries have exhibitions about pop stars and video games. And the National Gallery? Oh, just hundreds and hundreds of the world’s greatest paintings. Titian, Monet, Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Rubens, Raphael and Leonardo are all in London’s Trafalgar Square. If you want to know about European art, it’s the place to go.

But classical art comes with its own linguistic baggage (symbolic… represents… influences). On top of that, the National Gallery’s paintings often need more context (to explain medieval religious iconography, for example). And they’re on display in an impressive, but imposing, building. All this meant too many people saw the National Gallery as ‘distant’ – perhaps not for them until they’d got round to doing an art degree or two.

We took on the Gallery’s tone of voice to help change these preconceptions and to bring more people through its doors. We worked with different teams (marketing, the curators, education, social, retail, membership) to help them make their words more engaging, immediate and most of all, to put the art first. Before anyone could whisper ‘dumbing down’, we were clear we wanted to keep the Gallery’s authority: this is the place for European art, wherever you are in the world. At the same time, we took away the formal tone (a legacy of art writing, academia and serious subject matters), but kept the knowledge and the confidence. We were clear from the start that we wanted to put the art back into their words and celebrate their amazing collection.

Pictures don't always speak a thousand words.
Pictures don’t always speak a thousand words: we wrote the Gallery’s tone of voice guidelines and trained their teams how to use it.
Before: we swapped a distant ‘don’t touch’ tone…
(Before.) We swapped a distant ‘DON’T TOUCH’ tone…
…After: for warmer, more engaging words that put the art first
(After.) …for warmer, more engaging words that put the art back in.

What started as a tone of voice project soon grew into something bigger. As well as penning the words for the Gallery’s blockbuster Monet campaign, we’ve summed up their brand (a well-known consultancy in the museum world had written a version, but people struggled to use it); helped their membership teams get their pitch and campaigns right; and trained different teams around the Gallery to put the tone into action.

The National Gallery in a line.
On their home page: “The story of European art, masterpiece by masterpiece.” The National Gallery – and 700 years of art – in one sentence.
Monet campaign
We’ve been helping the Gallery promote their exhibitions as well as writing about the Gallery itself. We wrote the blurb for
their Monet & Architecture exhibition and came up with ideas to spread the word. This one didn’t make it past the audition, but we’re still fans…
Monet campaign
…Although the National Gallery did run with #MonetWasHere during the exhibition, in partnership with Google.

And the best bit? When we presented our work to the Gallery’s director (big cheese in the art world), he assumed we ‘must be art historians’, thanks to some knowing headlines about Caravaggio.


+ Worked out their tone of voice.
+ Summed it up in a tone of voice guide for everyone in the Gallery to use.
+ Trained different teams to put it into practice.
+ Sharpened up their brand (and ironed out work started by another consultancy).
+ Created campaigns for exhibitions and their membership.
+ A top-secret project with the Gallery’s board, which we can’t talk about. Or else.


+ The design. The Gallery’s team did that.