National Portrait Gallery

The National Portrait Gallery is an art gallery in St Martin’s Place, London, England, which opened to the public in 1856. It houses portraits of historically important and famous British people, selected on the basis of the significance of the sitter. The collection includes photographs and caricatures as well as paintings, drawings and sculpture. 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Some, such as the group portrait of the participants in the Somerset House Conference of 1604, are important historical documents in their own right.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, 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.

The Gallery moved to its present building north of and adjacent to the National Gallery in 1896. It was designed by Ewan Christian in a Neo-Renaissance style and has been expanded twice. The first extension was funded by Lord Duveen in 1933, whose wing runs along Orange Street, and the second by Dr. Christopher Ondaatje in 2000. The Ondaatje Wing occupies a slither of land between the two 19th-century buildings of the National Gallery and the NPG and is notable for its immense, two-storey escalator that takes visitors to the earliest part of the collection, the Tudor portraits.

In addition to its permanent galleries of historical portraits, the National Portrait Gallery exhibits a rapidly changing collection of contemporary work, stages exhibitions of portrait art by individual artists and hosts the annual BP Portrait Prize competition.

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