National Portrait Gallery (London)

National Portrait Gallery (London)

infobox London museum
name= National Portrait Gallery

established= 1856
collection= 10,000 portraits
location= St Martin's Place, WC2, England
visitors= 1,500,000 (2005) [ [ Association of Leading Visitor Attractions] ]
director= Sandy Nairne
tube= Charing Cross, Embankment, Leicester Square
website= []

The National Portrait Gallery is an art gallery in London, England, 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. [citation | title= National Portrait Gallery: About | publisher=ARTINFO | year=2008 | url=| accessdate=2008-07-30] The gallery moved in 1896 to its current site at St Martin's Place, off Trafalgar Square, and adjoining the National Gallery, London at the side. It has been expanded twice since then. The National Portrait Gallery also has various satellite outstations located elsewhere in the UK, mostly for aristocratic portraits. 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

The collection

The gallery 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 [ [ Every great country must have its portrait gallery] ] . The National Portrait Gallery also houses the Chandos portrait, arguably the most famous portrait of William Shakespeare. [ [ National Portrait Gallery | What's on? | Searching for Shakespeare ] ]

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 Some, such as the group portrait of the participants in the Somerset House Conference of 1604, are important historical documents in their own right.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 collection of contemporary work, stages exhibitions of portrait art by individual artists and hosts the annual BP Portrait Prize competition.

History and buildings

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. [ History of the National Portrait Gallery] , accessed 26 May 2008.]

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, Westminster. There, the collection increased in size from 57 to 208 items, and the number of visitors from 5,300 to 34,500. In 1869, the collection moved to Exhibition Road and buildings managed by the Royal Horticultural Society. Following a fire in those buildings, the collection was moved in 1885, this time to the Bethnal Green Museum. This location was ultimately unsuitable due to the non-central location, condensation and lack of waterproofing. Following calls for a new location to be found, the government accepted an offer of funds from the philanthropist William Henry Alexander. Alexander donated £60,000 followed by another £20,000, and also chose the architect, Ewan Christian. The government provided the new site, St Martin's Place, adjacent to the National Gallery, and £16,000. The buildings, faced in Portland stone, were constructed by Shillitoe & Son [Hulme, Graham pg 105] . Both the architect, Ewan Christian, and the gallery's first director, George Scharf, died shortly before the new building was completed. The gallery opened at its new location on 4 April 1896.

The site has since been expanded twice. The first extension, in 1933, was funded by Lord Duveen, and resulted in the wing by architect Sir Richard Allison [ [] ] that runs along Orange Street. The second extension, in 2000, was funded by Dr. Christopher Ondaatje. The Ondaatje Wing 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.

In January 2008, the Gallery received its largest single donation to date, a £5m gift from US billionaire Randy Lerner.

Exterior busts

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 C. 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.


*George Scharf — 1857–1894/5
*Lionel Cust [He was previously at the Department of Prints and Drawings at the British Museum, and from 1901 to 1927 filled the role of Surveyor of the King's Pictures.] — 1895–1909
*Charles John Holmes [Later director of the National Gallery.] — 1909–1916
*James Milner — 1917–1927
*Sir Henry Hake — 1927–1951 [ [ Obituary of his father, the chemist Henry Wilson Hake] ] [ [ Who Was Who entry] ]
*Charles Kingsley Adams — 1951–1964 [ [ Who Was Who entry] ]
*David Piper [Later director of the Fitzwilliam Museum and fellow of Christ's College, Cambridge (1967–73), and first ever director of the Ashmolean Museum (1973–85).] — 1964–1967
*Roy Strong — 1967–73
*John Hayes — 1974–94
*Charles Saumarez Smith — 1994–2002
*Sandy Nairne — 2002–present


Further reading

* Hulme, Graham, "The National Portrait Gallery - An Architectural History", National Portrait Gallery Publications, 2000, ISBN 1855142937

ee also

*The National Portrait Gallery Collects

External links

* [ Official website of the National Portrait Gallery]
* [ The history of the National Portrait Gallery]
* [ The complete illustrated Catalogue]
* [ National Portrait Gallery: A Visitor's Guide by John Cooper (New edition 2006)]
* [ To search the collection]
* [ NPG at Bodelwyddan Castle]

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