National Portrait Gallery

National Portrait Gallery, London
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The National Portrait Gallery, founded in 1856, is home to the largest collection of portraits in the world, with works dating from the Middle Ages to the present day.

With over 1,000 portraits on display visitors can come face to face with the people who have shaped British history and culture, from Elizabeth I and Charles Dickens to The Beatles and David Beckham. Artists featured range from Holbein to Hockney, and the Collection includes work across all media, from painting and sculpture to photography and video.

Venue Type:

Gallery

Opening hours

Daily 10.00-18.00
Gallery closure commences at 17.50
Thursday & Friday until 21.00
Gallery closure commences at 20.50

Closed: 24-26 December

Admission charges

Admission to the Gallery is FREE
An admission fee is charged for some exhibitions

Discounts

  • Museums Association

Additional info

Evening Openings

The Gallery is open on Thursday and Friday evenings until 21.00. In addition to being able to view the Collection and exhibitions, special lectures (in English only) are held on Thursday evenings and free music events on Friday evenings.

The Collection is displayed chronologically, beginning with the earliest Tudor portraits on the top floor, the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, through to the Victorians and early 20th century on the first floor and finishing with the most contemporary part of the collection on the ground floor.

Collection details

Archives, Decorative and Applied Art, Fine Art, Personalities, Social History

Key artists and exhibits

  • In addition to the Main Collection, a programme of special temporary exhibitions and displays runs throughout the year.
Exhibition details are listed below, you may need to scroll down to see them all.

Hidden: An unseen portrait of Oliver Cromwell

  • 10 July 2014 — 19 October 2015 *on now

Recent investigation of the portrait of Sir Arthur Hesilrige, using the latest infra-red technology, has revealed what appears to be a hidden portrait of the Parliamentarian commander Oliver Cromwell underneath. The reasons for this change are obscure. Was the artist re-using an old canvas that he had been unable to sell? Or did Hesilrige, a Parliamentarian army officer and committed republican, have Cromwell’s portrait repainted as one of himself when the two fell out over Cromwell’s assumption of the role of Protector? This display puts the Gallery’s portrait of Cromwell alongside that of Hesilrige and, for the first time, shows the infra-red image of the hidden portrait.

Suitable for

  • Family friendly

Website

http://www.npg.org.uk/whatson/display/2014/hidden-an-unseen-portrait-of-oliver-cromwell.php

Favourites: Art and Power, 1600-1800

  • 18 July 2014 — 1 September 2015 *on now

Throughout British history, the reigning monarch has operated a system of favouritism by which loyalty, support and achievement have been rewarded with privileges, titles and membership of exclusive groups. This system has been central to the hierarchy of traditional British society and has helped to protect the monarch and assert the crown’s authority. It has also increased the social influence of the 'favourites' who have achieved these honours. Nevertheless, as this display shows, the system has been open to abuse, manipulation and corruption.

The portraits in this display show men who were invested as Knights of the Order of the Garter. Established by King Edward III in 1348, the Order of the Garter has existed for over 650 years. It’s foundation was inspired by the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. The first knights were the king’s most trusted military commanders at a time of war with France. With the number of knights limited to twenty-four, plus members of the royal family, the Order of the Garter has always been the highest honour available to courtiers and public figures. These portraits, each showing their subject in the robes and regalia of the Order, reflect the status and prestige to be derived from membership. Yet, with each of these sitters, the favouritism of the monarch proved controversial and precarious.

Suitable for

  • Family friendly

Website

http://www.npg.org.uk/whatson/display/2014/favourites-art-and-power-1600-1800.php

Henry Tonks: Studies of the Artist

  • 18 November 2014 — 12 July 2015 *on now

This display showcases three self-portrait sketches made on the eve of the First World War by one of the most influential art teachers of the twentieth century, Henry Tonks (1862-1937).

Tonks began his career as a surgeon, but his other passion was art, and from 1888 he attended evening classes at the Westminster School of Art. His teacher, Frederick Brown, was the founder of the progressive New English Art Club – an alternative to the Royal Academy of Arts, and an exponent of Impressionist art in Britain. Tonks soon became a member of the Club, whose other members included the artists James McNeill Whistler, Walter Sickert and John Singer Sargent. In 1892, he was appointed Assistant Professor at the Slade School of Fine Art, and it was in this role that he completed the three arresting self-portrait studies in this display. On the outbreak of the First World War, Tonks returned to practicing medicine, during which time he made his famous pastel drawings of patients before and after plastic surgery. Tonks was appointed an official war artist in 1918, and at the close of the war he succeeded Brown as Slade Professor – a post he held until his retirement in 1930.

Suitable for

  • Family friendly

Website

http://www.npg.org.uk/whatson/display/2014/henry-tonks-studies-of-the-artist.php

‘The artist’s cause at heart’: M.H. Spielmann, Collector and Donor

  • 18 November 2014 — 19 September 2015 *on now

The son of a banker, Marion Harry Spielmann (1858-1948) was a 28 year-old art critic when he was appointed editor of the Magazine of Art in 1886. Under his ‘vigorous and original editing’ it flourished a further 17 years. He aimed to explain the contemporary art world to the public, and to encourage consumer patronage. Artists were invited to write about fellow artists
and he ran articles such as ‘Should there be a British Artists Room in the New National Portrait Gallery?’(1890), and ‘Suggestions for a New Fine Art Copyright Act’(1893). He also wrote perceptively about graphic (‘Black and White’) artists, and the New Sculpture movement.

This display throws light on M.H. Spielmann’s discreet but powerful reputation in the Victorian and Edwardian art worlds. It celebrates his activities as an editor, writer and collector. And it exposes the generosity with which he disposed of his collections to the Gallery, an institution whose interests he had long championed.

Suitable for

  • Family friendly

Website

http://www.npg.org.uk/whatson/display/2014/the-artists-cause-at-heart-m.h.-spielmann-collector-and-donor.php

Old Titles and New Money: American Heiresses and the British Aristocracy

  • 25 November 2014 — 2 August 2015 *on now

This display presents a selection of portraits and the stories of some of the most high-profile American heiresses to marry into British aristocracy, including Jennie Churchill, Mary Curzon and Consuelo Vanderbilt.

The late nineteenth century saw a boom in industries such as railways, mining and banking, and many fortunes were made. However, in the USA, and particularly New York, these new millionaires discovered that wealth did not necessarily earn them high social status. Ever entrepreneurial, these families looked to Europe to seek noble marriages for their daughters that would ensure their acceptance in high society.

While some American heiresses found their match on the continent, others were drawn to Britain, whose social structures were upheld by primogeniture and entail. This system ensured that the eldest son would inherit the family estate in trust, preventing assets from being broken up. However, these estates were expensive to maintain and so the noble families of Britain welcomed wealthy American ‘Dollar Princesses’ with open arms.

Soon, women from some of the most powerful family dynasties in the USA – the Jeromes, Leiters, Martins and Vanderbilts – became informal diplomats for their country, united by marriage to the ruling political classes of the rising world power of Great Britain.

Suitable for

  • Family friendly

Website

http://www.npg.org.uk/whatson/display/2014/old-titles-and-new-money-american-heiresses-and-the-british-aristocracy.php

Women and the First World War

  • 17 February — 25 October 2015 *on now

The First World War offered women the unexpected opportunity to work in fields that had previously been open only to men, proving that they could take on roles other than care-giving. The contributions of women in the early stages of the war were largely confined to the medical sphere and some of the first women to qualify as doctors in Britain worked in field hospitals. The increasing number of casualties meant that trained nurses and doctors were in great demand. The number of women working abroad was bolstered in 1915 by the decision to send Voluntary Aid Detachments (VADs) to the front lines. These women were predominantly un-trained and worked as clerks and drivers attached to hospitals.

The display fittingly coincides with the hundredth anniversary of the death of Edith Cavell, who was executed in 1915 for helping Allied soldiers escape from Belgium.

Suitable for

  • Family friendly

Website

http://www.npg.org.uk/whatson/display/2015/women-and-the-first-world-war.php

The Tudors Reimagined: George Perfect Harding

  • 14 March 2015 — 17 January 2016 *on now

The growing interest in the history of Britain led to the popularity of antiquarianism in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and to a demand for portraits of historical figures in a variety of media. This display explores that fashion through the work of the miniature painter and copyist George Perfect Harding. The eldest son of another miniature painter, Silvester Harding (1745—1809), George was probably taught by his father who ran a successful business as an engraver with his brother, Edward Harding (1755-1840). For some forty years, from 1804, George travelled the United Kingdom copying portraits and recording details of their history. His notebooks from this period survive and provide a detailed record of the content of over 250 collections, from castles and country houses to inns of court, university colleges, livery companies and hospitals. This display pairs some of the original portraits, now in the National Portrait Gallery, with Harding’s copies.

The watercolours in this display appear to have been produced either singly or in very limited quantities for the most dedicated of collectors. The preservation of their colour indicates that they were kept in folios and books. They also reveal the appearance of many Tudor portraits before environmental factors or chemical changes had caused certain pigments to fade. This can be seen particularly clearly in Harding’s copy of the portrait of Nicholas Throckmorton.

Suitable for

  • Family friendly

Website

http://www.npg.org.uk/whatson/display/2015/the-tudors-reimagined-george-perfect-harding.php

Jack Smith: Abstract Portraits

  • 18 March — 31 August 2015 *on now

This display brings together four abstract portraits by the distinguished British painter Jack Smith (1928-2011).

Three of these paintings were made in the 1980s: two representing the composers Harrison Birtwistle and Colin Matthews, and the third the choreographer Ashley Page. The fourth is a self-portrait dated 1997. None of these works functions as a portrait in a conventional way.

Rather than representing the sitter’s appearance, these works use colour, line and abstract shape suggestively and symbolically. These purely pictorial, dynamic elements were associated by Smith with the composers’ music and also the dancer’s movements. They convey a sense of identity without recourse to physical description.

Suitable for

  • Family friendly

Website

http://www.npg.org.uk/whatson/display/2015/jack-smith-abstract-portraits.php

On Belonging: Photographs of Indians of African Descent

  • 13 April — 31 August 2015 *on now

One of India’s leading contemporary photographers, Ketaki Sheth has a long-standing interest in questions of identity and representation. In her most recent project, shown here, she features the Sidi, a people of African descent living in India. With origins in historic trade routes, they have called India home since the seventeenth century, adopting many of the conventions of dress, food, and ceremony characteristic of the subcontinent. At the same time, they maintain a distinct identity and culture.

There are currently about 70,000 Sidi living in India. Descended from sailors, traders, and slaves, some continue to think of Africa as an ancestral homeland, but nearly all consider themselves Indian in every other way. Most live in the western state of Gujarat and the southern state of Karnataka.

Sheth’s photographs are true portraits—insightful pictures of personalities living in Sidi communities. At the same time, her project explores the complexity of national and cultural identity and how this might shift over time, questions that relate closely to the Collection in National Portrait Gallery. With a group such as the Sidi, how does one begin to separate issues of nationality, ethnicity, and culture? And how much of personal identity is shaped by tradition and context? As touching as Sheth’s photographs are, they also remind us how complicated portraits can be.

Suitable for

  • Family friendly

Website

http://www.npg.org.uk/whatson/display/2015/on-belonging-photographs-of-indians-of-african-descent.php

Cornelius Johnson: Charles I’s Forgotten Painter

  • 15 April — 13 September 2015 *on now

Cornelius Johnson (1593–1661) is the forgotten man of seventeenth-century art, even though his paintings – all of them portraits – are found in many British museums, galleries and country houses. He was prolific and successful but, as a painter at Charles I’s court, had the bad luck first to be overshadowed by the superstar Anthony van Dyck, and then to have his British career halted by the civil wars. Born in London in 1593 into a Flemish/German Protestant family, Johnson probably trained mainly in the northern Netherlands, returning to London by early 1619 – the date on his earliest portraits. Based in Blackfriars, Johnson painted gentry, aristocrats, lawyers and merchants, including members of London’s Netherlandish community. He meticulously recorded their fine dress and lace collars. In 1632 he was appointed ‘picture-drawer’ to Charles I, producing a few small-scale royal portraits, although the main royal commissions went to Van Dyck. Johnson was the first British-born artist consistently to sign and date his paintings, although his signatures varied over the years. He worked on every scale, from the miniature to the big group portrait.

In late 1643, following the outbreak of civil war in Britain, and the collapse of court patronage, Johnson and his family moved back to the Netherlands. There, he joined the painters’ guild in the thriving coastal city of Middelburg in Zeeland, where he had friends from the London Dutch community. In 1644, he was commissioned to paint Middelburg’s burgomaster (mayor). Johnson and his wife subsequently lived in Amsterdam, and he also worked at The Hague, where he produced his largest surviving portrait, a civic group depicting The Hague Magistrates. Early in the 1650s, the Johnsons settled in one of the best streets in Utrecht, where he remained a leading portrait-painter until his death. He was buried in Utrecht on 5 August 1661. His only surviving son, also named Cornelius, who had been born in London in 1634, assisted his father, and continued to work as a painter in the Netherlands, dying in Utrecht in 1715.

Suitable for

  • Family friendly

Website

http://www.npg.org.uk/whatson/display/2015/cornelius-johnson-charles-is-forgotten-painter.php

Spotlight

  • 11 May — 30 June 2015 *on now

Dame Barbara Hepworth (1903-1975) was born in Wakefield, Yorkshire. She trained in sculpture at Leeds School of Art and at the Royal College of Art where Henry Moore was a fellow student. In 1924 Hepworth won a travel scholarship to Italy, there she married the sculptor John Skeaping and moved to Rome where she learned to carve marble. In 1931 Hepworth met artist Ben Nicholson, who became her second husband. They worked in close association, shifting towards abstraction, her sculptures becoming more simplified. They joined Abstraction-Création and were major figures in the British modernist group Unit One.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, Hepworth, Nicholson and their three children moved to St Ives, Cornwall, a thriving centre for artists. They founded Penwith Society of Arts, which promoted the development of abstract art. She bought Trewyn Studios in 1949, now the Barbara Hepworth Museum, where she lived from 1950, after her divorce from Nicholson, and continued to work there until her death in 1975.

Suitable for

  • Family friendly

Website

http://www.npg.org.uk/whatson/display/spotlight.php

Curators' Choice: Photographs from the Terence Pepper Gift

  • 12 May 2015 — 24 January 2016 *on now

The works in these two component displays are drawn from around 2500 photographs from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries generously donated by Terence Pepper, Senior Special Adviser on Photographs. Curators’ Choice is a tribute to his skills of detection and identification, and his eye for an overlooked or mis-identified sitter or photographer, as well as his interest in charting cultural life in all its variety.

Terence’s long and illustrious career at the National Portrait Gallery as Curator of Photographs and Head of the Photographs Collection (1978-2013) has left its mark in the remarkable body of photographic works acquired for the Collection in this period. Terence’s expertise, energy and enthusiasm transformed the Gallery’s photographic holdings, and today the Photographs Collection comprises over 250,000 portraits by leading photographers including many that he has helped bring back to prominence.

Suitable for

  • Family friendly

Website

http://www.npg.org.uk/whatson/display/2015/curators-choice-photographs-from-the-terence-pepper-gift.php

BP Portrait Award 2015

  • 18 June — 20 September 2015 *on now

Selected from a record-breaking 2,748 entries by artists from 92 countries around the world, the BP Portrait Award 2015 represents the very best in contemporary portrait painting.

From parents to poseurs, figurative nudes to famous faces and expressive sketches to piercing photo-realism, the variety and vitality in the exhibition continues to make it an unmissable highlight of the annual art calendar.

Now in its thirty-sixth year at the National Portrait Gallery, and twenty-sixth year of sponsorship by BP, the first prize of £30,000 makes the Award the most prestigious international portrait painting competition of its kind and has launched the careers of many renowned artists.

Suitable for

Website

http://www.npg.org.uk/whatson/bp-portrait-award/exhibition.php

a photo of a woman wearing a pink dress next to pink flowers

Audrey Hepburn: Portraits of an Icon

  • 2 July — 18 October 2015

This fascinating photographic exhibition illustrates the life of actress and fashion icon Audrey Hepburn (1929-1993). From her early years as a chorus girl in London’s West End through to her philanthropic work in later life, Portraits of an Icon will celebrate one of the world’s most photographed and recognisable stars.

A selection of more than sixty images will define Hepburn’s iconography, including classic and rarely seen prints from leading twentieth-century photographers such as Richard Avedon, Cecil Beaton, Angus McBean, Norman Parkinson and Irving Penn. Alongside these, an array of vintage magazine covers, film stills, and extraordinary archival material will complete her captivating story.

Suitable for

  • Family friendly

Admission

Tickets, including donation:
Full price £10
Concessions £8.50

Website

http://www.npg.org.uk/whatson/hepburn/home.php

Giacometti: Pure Presence

  • 15 October 2015 — 10 January 2016

Alberto Giacometti (1901–1966) is widely regarded as one of the most important and distinctive artists of the 20th century. A restless innovator, he explored a range of styles and subjects
however portraiture remained a continuous preoccupation.

This major exhibition is the first to focus on Giacometti’s portraits and covers the entire span of his career. The show includes important paintings, sculpture and drawings within sections devoted to each of his principal models, and illuminates Giacometti’s obsessive evocation of a human presence.

Suitable for

  • Family friendly

Admission

Tickets with donation* Full price £17 / Concessions £15.50
Tickets without donation Full price £15 / Concessions £13.50

Website

http://www.npg.org.uk/whatson/giacometti/exhibition.php

Resources listed here may include websites, bookable tours and workshops, books, loan boxes and more. You may need to scroll down or click on headers to see them all.

The Sunday Sessions

http://www.npg.org.uk/learning/young.php

The Sunday Sessions are part of the Young People's Programme for 14-21 year olds. All sessions are free and explore aspects of portraiture in exciting and innovative ways, drawing inspiration from the collection or temporary exhibitions.

How to obtain

For more information email youthbookings@npg.org.uk or call 020 7312 2483.

Family Art Events

http://www.npg.org.uk/learning/families.php

On the 3rd Saturday of every month, explore portraits from the National Portrait Gallery's collection, then take part in an art activity. Workshops are at 11.30 and 14.30 and last approximately 90 minutes.

How to obtain

Pick up a free ticket to attend the sessions, available one hour before it starts from the Information Desk in the Ondaatje Wing Main Hall. Spaces are allocated first come, first served and children must be accompanied by an adult.

National Portrait Gallery Webquests

http://www.npg.org.uk/webquests/

Webquests are online activities for children, using the collections of nine national museums and galleries.

Storytelling for Families

http://www.npg.org.uk/learning/families.php

Third Saturday of every month, join our storytellers for monthly drop-in storytelling sessions in the Gallery, inspired by the Collection. Suitable for children aged 3+ and their carers.

How to obtain

No ticket required. Meet in the Ondaatje Wing Main Hall. These sessions are free and will last about 30 minutes.

Youth Forum

http://www.npg.org.uk/learning/young.php

Youth Forum is part of The National Portrait Gallery's Young People's Programme for 14-21 year olds. All sessions are free and explore aspects of portraiture in exciting and innovative ways, drawing inspiration from the collection and temporary exhibitions. Youth Forum meets on a Thursday evening once a month.

How to obtain

For more information or to join Youth Forum, contact Rachel Moss, Young People's Programme Manager on rmoss@npg.org.uk.

National Portrait Gallery
St Martin's Place
London
Greater London
WC2H 0HE
England

Website

www.npg.org.uk

E-mail

dsaywell@npg.org.uk

Telephone

Recorded Information

020 7312 2463

020 7306 0055

All information is drawn from or provided by the venues themselves and every effort is made to ensure it is correct. Please remember to double check opening hours with the venue concerned before making a special visit.
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