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National Portrait Gallery Of London

Insignia and metalwork on the gates of the National Portrait Gallery

Insignia and metalwork on the gates

The three men that are responsible for the National Portrait Gallery London are Philip Henry Stanhope, 5th Earl Stanhope, Thomas Babington Macaulay and Thomas Carlyle. Stanhope tried three times to introduce the idea to the House of Commons and finally in 1856 he succeeded. The National Portrait Gallery London was formally established on December 2, 1856. William Shakespeare became the first portrait to enter the National Portrait Gallery in London.

The National Portrait Gallery of London was basically established with the criteria that the Gallery was to be about history, not about art. It was to be about the status of the sitter, rather then the quality or character of a particular image considered as artwork. This criterion is still used today by the Gallery. It was originally decided by the Trustees that “no portrait of any person still living, or deceased less than 10 years, shall be admitted by purchase, donation, or bequest, except only in the case of the reigning Sovereign, and of his or her Consort”. This particular rule changed in 1969 in order to encourage the policy of admitting the living sitters.

The Building

Back of the National Portrait Gallery

Back of the National Portrait Gallery

It wasn’t until 1889 that the National Portrait Gallery of London had a permanent location. Until this time, the collections had to moved from place to place as the spaces grew too small to accommodate the numerous portraits. Ewan Christian became the architect of the Gallery. By the time the Gallery opened it was already too small for its ever growing collections. New building additions were immediately started. Visitors today to the National Portrait Gallery of London continue to increase with over one million visitors in 1998.

The Collections

The Primary Collection in the National Portrait Gallery of London contains over 10,000 portraits. Four thousand of these are paintings, sculptures and miniatures of which 60% are regularly displayed. There are also 6,000 light sensitive works on paper, shown on a rotating basis. The National Portrait Gallery of London also holds a Reference Collection that is made up of an Archive Collection and a Photograph Collection. The purpose of the Primary Collection is to display portraits of the nation’s great men and women and to act as a national focus for the study and understanding of portraits and portraiture.

Collection Process

The National Portrait Gallery of London acquires its portraits from the life in all media. They can be purchased, bequeathed or given as a gift. Since 1980, the Gallery has also commissioned portraits. The acquisitions are subject to approval by the Board of Trustees. The Board meets only four times a year. All of the portraits in the Primary Collection are accessible on the website in the search area. Normally items that are not on display can readily be made available for viewing when requested.

Elaborate mosaic floor at the entrance to the National Portrait Gallery

Elaborate mosaic floor at the entrance

The National Portrait Gallery of London has an extensive education department. There are on-going lecture series as well as workshops and some classes. There are in-house art history study and group tours that can be done in 12 different languages. There are four restaurants available, several sitting lounges, six libraries and two gift shops. It will take two full days to really see the National Portrait Gallery of London and ideally four days at a pleasant leisurely pace. Teenagers that are studying art might thoroughly enjoy the Gallery and there are special listening tapes for that age group. There are many nice restaurants in the area so if you are deciding to make a one day trip be sure on making reservations for an evening at one of these fine restaurants. There are new exhibits opening monthly at the National Portrait Gallery of London so if you have been to the Gallery and want to return and see something new, viewing one of these new exhibits is a must. Our exhibits are made up of art from all around the world and a vision to behold.

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