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National Portrait Gallery, London

National Portrait Gallery
Entrance to the National Portrait Gallery
National Portrait Gallery, London is located in Central London
Location within central London
Established 1856 (1856)
Location St. Martin's Place, London, United Kingdom
Collection size 195,000 portraits

2.06 million (2014)[1][2]

Director Nicholas Cullinan[3]
Public transit access Charing Cross
Embankment ( Charing Cross 100m)
Leicester Square

The National Portrait Gallery (NPG) is an art gallery in London housing a collection of portraits of historically important and famous British people. It was the first portrait gallery in the world when it opened in 1856.[4] The gallery moved in 1896 to its current site at St Martin's Place, off Trafalgar Square, and adjoining the National Gallery. It has been expanded twice since then. The National Portrait Gallery also has three regional outposts at Beningbrough Hall, Bodelwyddan Castle and Montacute House. It is unconnected to the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh, with which its remit overlaps. The gallery is a non-departmental public body sponsored by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.


  • Collection 1
  • History and buildings 2
    • 21st century 2.1
  • Exterior busts 3
  • Finances and staff 4
  • Directors 5
  • Legal threat against WorldHeritage volunteer 6
  • See also 7
  • References 8
  • Further reading 9
  • External links 10


The Chandos portrait of William Shakespeare, the first painting to enter the NPG's collection

The gallery houses portraits of historically important and famous British people, selected on the basis of the significance of the sitter, not that of the artist. The collection includes photographs and caricatures as well as paintings, drawings and sculpture.[5] One of its best-known images is the Chandos portrait, the most famous portrait of William Shakespeare[6] although there is some uncertainty about whether the painting actually is of the playwright.[7]

Not all of the portraits are exceptional artistically, although there are self-portraits by William Hogarth, Sir Joshua Reynolds and other British artists of note. Some, such as the group portrait of the participants in the Somerset House Conference of 1604, are important historical documents in their own right. Often, the curiosity value is greater than the artistic worth of a work, as in the case of the anamorphic portrait of Edward VI by William Scrots, Patrick Branwell Brontë's painting of his sisters Charlotte, Emily and Anne, or a sculpture of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in medieval costume. Portraits of living figures were allowed from 1969. In addition to its permanent galleries of historical portraits, the National Portrait Gallery exhibits a rapidly changing selection of contemporary work, stages exhibitions of portrait art by individual artists and hosts the annual BP Portrait Prize competition.

History and buildings

Inside the National Portrait Gallery
The locations of the NPG and its three outposts.

The three people largely responsible for the founding of the National Portrait Gallery are commemorated with busts over the main entrance. At centre is Philip Henry Stanhope, 5th Earl Stanhope, with his supporters on either side, Thomas Babington Macaulay, 1st Baron Macaulay (to Stanhope's left) and Thomas Carlyle (to Stanhope's right). It was Stanhope who, in 1846 as a Member of Parliament (MP), first proposed the idea of a National Portrait Gallery. It was not until his third attempt, in 1856, this time from the House of Lords, that the proposal was accepted. With Queen Victoria's approval, the House of Commons set aside a sum of £2000 to establish the gallery. As well as Stanhope and Macaulay, the founder Trustees included Benjamin Disraeli and Lord Ellesmere. It was the latter who donated the Chandos portrait to the nation as the gallery's first portrait. Carlyle became a trustee after the death of Ellesmere in 1857.[8]

For the first 40 years, the gallery was housed in various locations in London. The first 13 years were spent at 29 Great George Street,

  • Official website
  • National Portrait Gallery Archive Catalogue
  • National Portrait Gallery Library Catalogue

External links

  • Saumarez Smith, Charles, The National Portrait Gallery, 2nd. rev. ed., National Portrait Gallery, 2010, ISBN 9781855144330
  • Cannadine, David, National Portrait Gallery: a Brief History, National Portrait Gallery, 2007, ISBN 9781855143876
  • Hulme, Graham, The National Portrait Gallery: an Architectural History, National Portrait Gallery Publications, 2000, ISBN 1-85514-293-7

Further reading

  • Martin-Robinson, John (2014). Requisitioned: The British Country House in the Second World War. London: Arum.  
  1. ^ a b Top 100 Art Museum Attendance, The Art Newspaper, 2015. Retrieved on 10 October 2015.
  2. ^ a b Latest Visitor Figures, ALVA, 2015. Retrieved on 10 October 2015.
  3. ^ Pes, Javier (6 January 2015). "National Portrait Gallery lures Met curator back to London". The Art Newspaper. Retrieved 6 January 2015. 
  4. ^ "National Portrait Gallery: About". ARTINFO. 2008. Retrieved 30 July 2008. 
  5. ^ "Every great country must have its portrait gallery". 12 October 2006. Retrieved 10 December 2011. 
  6. ^ National Portrait Gallery | What's on? | Searching for Shakespeare
  7. ^ Higgins, Charlotte (2 March 2006). "The only true painting of Shakespeare – probably". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 19 May 2010. 
  8. ^ a b c d History of the National Portrait Gallery, accessed 26 May 2008.
  9. ^ Hulme, Graham pg 105
  10. ^ [2]
  11. ^ Martin-Robinson 2014, pp. 128
  12. ^ "Murder And Suicide In The National Portrait Gallery". The Times (38892). 25 February 1909. p. 12. 
  13. ^ "Inquests. The Shooting Affair At The National Portrait Gallery.". The Times (38895). 1 March 1909. p. 3. 
  14. ^ Adams, Stephen (3 February 2010). "Gruesome murder-suicide revealed in National Portrait Gallery archive". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 21 May 2013. 
  15. ^ Fiachra Gibbons, Arts correspondent (5 May 2000). "The Queen shares a joke with Lady Thatcher". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 10 December 2011. 
  16. ^ "Kate Middleton charities: The new royal has chosen five to support". 5 January 2012. Retrieved 12 April 2014. 
  17. ^ Furness, Hannah (11 February 2014). "Duchess of Cambridge visits National Portrait Gallery, home of little-known Middleton family paintings". UK Daily Telegraph - pages 1 and 3. Retrieved 27 January 2015. 
  18. ^ a b c National Portrait Gallery Annual Report and Accounts 2007–2008 (PDF).  
  19. ^ Charities Act 1993, Schedule 2.
  20. ^ "Obituary of his father, the chemist Henry Wilson Hake". 1 January 1930. Retrieved 10 December 2011. 
  21. ^ "Who Was Who entry". 1 January 2000. Retrieved 10 December 2011. 
  22. ^ "Who Was Who entry". 1 January 2000. Retrieved 10 December 2011. 
  23. ^ Orlowski, Andrew (13 July 2009). "National Portrait Gallery bitchslaps WorldHeritage". The Register. Retrieved 27 July 2009. 
  24. ^ a b Atkinson, Rebecca (22 August 2012). "NPG changes image licensing to allow free downloads". Museums Journal. Retrieved 21 May 2013. 


See also

As of 2012, 100,000 images, around a third of the Gallery's collection, had been digitised.[25]

In 2012, the Gallery licensed 53,000 low-resolution images under a Creative Commons license, making them available free of charge for non–commercial use. A further 87,000 high-resolution images are available for academic use under the Gallery's own license that invites donations in return; previously, the Gallery charged for high-resolution images.[25]

On 14 July 2009, the National Portrait Gallery sent a demand letter alleging breach of copyright against an editor-user of WorldHeritage, who downloaded thousands of high-resolution reproductions of public domain paintings from the NPG website, and placed them on WorldHeritage's sister media repository site, Wikimedia Commons.[23][24] The Gallery's position was that it held copyright in the digital images uploaded to Wikimedia Commons, and that it had made a significant financial investment in creating these digital reproductions. Whereas single-file low resolution images were already available on its website, the images added to Wikimedia Commons were re-integrated from separate files after the user "found a way to get around their software and download hi-resolution images without permission."[23]

Legal threat against WorldHeritage volunteer


The National Portrait Gallery's total income in 2007–2008 amounted to £16,610,000, the majority of which came from government grant-in-aid (£7,038,000) and donations (£4,117,000).[18] As of 31 March 2008, its net assets amounted to £69,251,000.[18] In 2008, the NPG had 218 full-time equivalent employees.[18] It is an exempt charity under English law.[19]

Finances and staff

In addition to the busts of the three founders of the gallery over the entrance, the exterior of two of the original 1896 buildings are decorated with stone block busts of eminent portrait artists, biographical writers and historians. These busts, sculpted by Frederick R. Thomas, depict James Granger, William Faithorne, Edmund Lodge, Thomas Fuller, The Earl of Clarendon, Horace Walpole, Hans Holbein the Younger, Sir Anthony van Dyck, Sir Peter Lely, Sir Godfrey Kneller, Louis François Roubiliac, William Hogarth, Sir Joshua Reynolds, Sir Thomas Lawrence and Sir Francis Chantrey.[8]

Exterior busts

In January 2012 he Duchess of Cambridge announced the National Portrait Gallery as one of her official patronages.[16] Her portrait was unveiled in January 2013. Reports in February 2014 revealed that the gallery holds nearly 20 portraits of Harriet Martineau and her brother James Martineau, whose great-nephew Francis Martineau Lupton was the Duchess's great-great-grandfather.[17]

In January 2008, the Gallery received its largest single donation to date, a £5m gift from Aston Villa Chairman and U.S. billionaire Randy Lerner.

The second extension was funded by Sir Christopher Ondaatje and a £12m Heritage Lottery Fund grant, and was designed by London-based architects Edward Jones and Jeremy Dixon.[15] The Ondaatje Wing opened in 2000 and occupies a narrow space of land between the two 19th-century buildings of the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery, and is notable for its immense, two-storey escalator that takes visitors to the earliest part of the collection, the Tudor portraits.

21st century

In February 1909, a murder–suicide took place in a gallery known as the Arctic Room. In an apparently planned attack, John Tempest Dawson, aged 70, shot his 58 year–old wife, Nannie Caskie; Dawson shot her from behind with a revolver, then shot himself in the mouth, dying instantly. His wife died in hospital several hours later. Both were American nationals who had lived in Hove for around 10 years.[12] Evidence at the inquest suggested that Dawson, a wealthy and well–travelled man, was suffering from a Persecutory delusion.[13] The incident came to public attention in 2010 when the Gallery's archive was put on-line as this included a personal account of the event by James Donald Milner, then the Assistant Director of the Gallery.[14]

The collections of the National Portrait Gallery were stored at Mentmore Towers in Buckinghamshire during the Second World War, along with pieces from the Royal Collection and paintings from Speaker's House in the Palace of Westminster.[11]

that runs along Orange Street. [10]Richard Allison, and resulted in the wing by architect Sir Lord Duveen The site has since been expanded twice. The first extension, in 1933, was funded by [8]

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