National Portrait Gallery

National Portrait Gallery, London
Food icon Guided tours icon Shop icon Library icon Study area icon Hearing disability facilities icon Visual disability facilities icon Wheelchair access icon

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:


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


  • 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.

Conscientious Objectors of the First World War

  • 21 June 2015 — 5 February 2017 *on now

This display marks one hundred years since the introduction of conscription by Herbert Asquith's government, in March 1916. As huge losses on the Western Front left the British army in need of more men, the Military Service Act required all unmarried men between eighteen and forty-one to defend their country. Those who refused to fight were called conscientious objectors (COs). Objecting on moral or religious grounds led to non-combatant roles in civilian work of national importance: labouring on farms or in aid posts. Some volunteered to drive field ambulances, but failure to serve in any capacity meant imprisonment. COs were required to argue their case for exemption before tribunals, which were generally unsympathetic and resulted in very few men being given exemption. During the Great War some 16,000 men were officially recorded as COs in Britain. Deprived of their right to vote, they were often abused as cowards and traitors. Among their ranks were numerous artists, writers and political activists.

The display will draw particular attention to one of the photographic albums of the society hostess Lady Ottoline Morrell, a keen amateur photographer and patron of the arts. At the outbreak of the First World War, Ottoline and her husband the politician Phillip Morrell joined forces with leading political figures to establish the anti-war Union of Democratic Control. In the following years they made their Oxfordshire home, Garsington Manor, a refuge for COs among their circle, providing employment on the estate farm, while continuing to entertain a range of visitors representative of different perspectives on the war.

The poet Siegfried Sassoon (1886-1967) enlisted in the Sussex Yeomanry (1914) and was commissioned into the Royal Welsh Fusiliers the following year, winning a Military Cross in 1916. Whilst convalescing at Somerville College in Oxford, Sassoon visited Garsington for the first time and made contact with the group of pacifists led by Bertrand Russell. He returned to France in 1917 but was wounded and sent back to England where he wrote ‘Declaration Against The War’, a public protest about the horrors he had witnessed.

Suitable for

  • Family friendly


Framing the Face: Collars and Ruffs

  • 19 February — 31 December 2016 *on now

Clothing in Britain has often seen fantastical extravagance and distortion. This small display of paintings and miniatures explores the collars and ruffs that were such a striking feature of sixteenth and seventeenth-century dress. Their design and scale changed continually over the period, with each decade heralding a new fashion that allowed sitters to demonstrate their wealth and style. From the clean folds of starched linen to the intricate patterns of French and Italian lace, collars and ruffs offered men and women the perfect means with which to frame their faces for the world.

Suitable for

  • Family friendly


Lewis Morley ‘Mammoth’ Prints

  • 25 February — 20 November 2016 *on now

Defying easy categorisation, the photographer Lewis Morley (1925–2013) was by turns fashion photographer, portraitist, and documentarian. Although he spent most of his life overseas, growing up in Hong Kong to English and Chinese parents, and emigrating to Australia in 1971, he is perhaps best remembered for the portraits he made of ‘Swinging Sixties’ Londoners.

The National Portrait Gallery mounted a major retrospective of Morley’s work in 1989. In the years that followed, the artist gave the Gallery more than three hundred prints from his archive, most of around 14 x 11 in (356 x 279 mm) or smaller. Just prior to his death, Morley made a series of oversized photographs of some of his most famous works, with the express wish that they be shown at the Gallery. Four are appearing now, according to his wishes, for the first time.

Included in the display are sensational portraits of the brilliant, ill-fated playwright Joe Orton, and two portraits of model Christine Keeler, whose suggestive erotic pose straddling a wooden chair became one of the defining images of the 1960s.


Setting the Scene: Staging and Backdrops in Studio Photographs

  • 22 March — 4 December 2016 *on now

To be photographed in the nineteenth-century usually meant visiting one of many competing commercial portrait studios. Since photographing outdoors was not practical for much of the period, photographers routinely equipped their studios with props, furniture, and backdrops to make their pictures look more natural and appealing. In doing so, they often recalled the conventions of traditional painted portraiture, contributing to early debates about photography’s status as ‘art’, while foregrounding its ability to represent truth or illusion.

While some photographers posed their sitters against plain backgrounds, seated in a chair or beside a small table, others chose specific items that could tailor compositions to reflect the identity of their sitters. Fashions changed, but many studio set-ups endured, reappearing throughout the nineteenth-century. The examples in this display show the inventiveness and skill demonstrated by some of the Victorian period's most sought-after photographers.

Suitable for

  • Family friendly


Black Chronicles: Photographic Portraits 1862 - 1948

  • 18 May — 11 December 2016 *on now

Black Chronicles showcases over forty photographs that present a unique snapshot of black lives and experiences in nineteenth and early twentieth-century Britain. Developed in collaboration with Autograph ABP, this intervention in three gallery spaces includes some of the earliest photographs in the Gallery’s Collection alongside recently rediscovered photographs from the Hulton Archive, a division of Getty Images.

These portraits of individuals of African and Asian heritage bear witness to Britain’s imperial history of empire and expansion. They highlight an important and complex black presence in Britain before 1948, a watershed moment when the Empire Windrush brought the first large group of Caribbean immigrants to Britain. Research is ongoing and new information emerges continuously.

This display is part of Autograph ABP’s The Missing Chapter, an ongoing archive research programme supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. Autograph ABP is a London-based arts charity that works internationally in photography and film, race, representation, cultural identity and human rights.

Suitable for

  • Family friendly


Picasso Portraits

  • 6 October 2016 — 5 February 2017 *on now

Picasso’s portraits epitomise the astonishing variety and innovation of his art. This major exhibition of over eighty works focuses on the artist’s portrayal of family, friends and lovers and reveals his creative processes as he moved freely between drawing from life, humorous caricature and expressive painting from memory.

On display will be portraits from all periods of Picasso’s career and in all media, from the realist paintings of his boyhood to his later ultra-spontaneous canvases. The works on show will range from celebrated masterpieces loaned by international institutions to works in private collections being shown in the United Kingdom for the first time.

Suitable for

  • Family friendly


Tickets with donation Full price £19 / Concessions £17.50
Tickets without donation Full price £17 / Concessions £15.50
Free for Members and Patrons


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.

Family Art Events

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

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

Storytelling for Families

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.

The Sunday Sessions

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 or call 020 7312 2483.

Youth Forum

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

National Portrait Gallery
St Martin's Place
Greater London





020 7306 0055

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.