Sandhya Krishnakumar
Impressions, National Gallery

At ten in the morning,
under cloudy London skies,
the queue for the free visit
is long. A guard in blue
walks past, calling aloud,
‘Raphael? Raphael?’
to ensure that nobody
is in the wrong queue;
there is a separate entrance
for the special exhibition
of paintings by Raphael.

Behind us, a man says to his son,
Il cherche un petit garçon
qui s’appelle Raphaël
‘He is looking for a little boy
called Raphael.’ I turn and catch
a glimpse of the young boy;
he looks worried, he really hopes
little Raphael would be found soon.

Later, inside the museum,
standing before the recently renamed
Ukrainian Dancers by Degas,
a lady says to her companion,
‘They must sell this painting
to collect money for Ukraine.’
For a brief moment, images of war
overshadow the paintings around us.
In another room, a father hurries away
with his young son as he yells,
Elles ne sont pas belles du tout!’
‘They are not beautiful at all!’

In a large, ornate hall with dark
red walls, lunettes with golden
motifs and names of artists,
a group of little children
in green and white uniforms
sit on the floor as a teacher
asks questions about the painting
in front of them—The Finding of Moses.

‘Who is the baby?’ ‘Jesus!’,
yell some with raised hands.
All have notebooks and pencils
to draw what they see.
Eventually, some children
gather to discuss their art.
A little girl of seven or eight says,
‘This looks more realistic.’

As I look back, the paintings
I saw now seem hazy,
their contents blurred,
their colours dulled,
while the patrons’ comments endure.