National Portrait Gallery, London

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 regional outposts at Beningbrough Hall in Yorkshire and Montacute House in Somerset. 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.

National Portrait Gallery
National Portrait Gallery (40400017530)
The gallery's main entrance in 2018
National Portrait Gallery, London is located in Central London
National Portrait Gallery, London
Location within central London
LocationSaint. Martin's Place
London, WC2
United Kingdom
Coordinates51°30′34″N 0°07′41″W / 51.5094°N 0.1281°WCoordinates: 51°30′34″N 0°07′41″W / 51.5094°N 0.1281°W
Collection size195,000 portraits
Visitors1,949,330 (2016)[1][2]
DirectorNicholas Cullinan[3]
Public transit accessNational Rail Charing Cross
London Underground Charing Cross; Leicester Square; Embankment


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 Some, such as the group portrait of the participants in the Somerset House Conference of 1604, are important historical documents in their own right.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

The locations of the NPG and its regional outposts, past and present.

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, 4th 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]

2008 inside the National Portrait Gallery, London
Inside the National Portrait Gallery, 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 its distance from the West End, 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.[8] The buildings, faced in Portland stone, were constructed by Shillitoe & Son.[9] 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.[8] 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[10] on a site previously occupied by St George's Barracks running along Orange Street.[11]

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.[15]

21st century

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.[16] 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.

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.

In January 2012, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge announced the National Portrait Gallery as one of her official patronages.[17] 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.[18]

Bodelwyddan Castle's partnership with the National Portrait Gallery came to an end in 2017 after its funding was cut by Denbighshire County Council.[19]

It was announced on 15 June 2017 that the NPG has been awarded funding of £9.4 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund towards its major transformation programme Inspiring People, the Gallery’s biggest ever development.[20] The Gallery had already raised over £7m of its £35.5m target. The building works are scheduled to start in 2020.[21] The project's full title is subtitled Transforming the reach of the National Portrait Gallery [22]

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 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]

Finances and staff

The National Portrait Gallery is an executive non-departmental public body of the UK Government, sponsored by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport.[23]

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).[24] As of 31 March 2008, its net assets amounted to £69,251,000.[24] In 2008, the NPG had 218 full-time equivalent employees.[24] It is an exempt charity under English law.[25]


Legal threat against Wikipedia volunteer

On 14 July 2009, the National Portrait Gallery sent a demand letter alleging breach of copyright against an editor-user of Wikipedia, who downloaded thousands of high-resolution reproductions of public domain paintings from the NPG website, and placed them on Wikipedia's sister media repository site, Wikimedia Commons.[29][30] 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 high-resolution images without permission."[29]

In 2012, the Gallery licensed 53,000 low-resolution images under a Creative Commons licence, 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 licence that invites donations in return; previously, the Gallery charged for high-resolution images.[31]

As of 2012, 100,000 images, around a third of the Gallery's collection, had been digitised.[31]

See also



  1. ^ a b Top 100 Art Museum Attendance, The Art Newspaper, 2015. Retrieved on 10 October 2015.
  2. ^ "VISITS MADE IN 2016 TO VISITOR ATTRACTIONS IN MEMBERSHIP WITH ALVA". Association of Leading Visitor Attractions. Retrieved 13 February 2018.
  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. Archived from the original on 4 December 2008. Retrieved 30 July 2008.
  5. ^ "Every great country must have its portrait gallery". 12 October 2006. Archived from the original on 25 August 2012. 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. ^ Royal Courts of Justice Archived 21 July 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  11. ^ Poole, Andrea Geddes (2010). "Stewards of the Nation's Art: Contested Cultural Authority, 1890-1939". University of Toronto Press. p. 207. ISBN 978-0-8020-9960-0.
  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. ^ Martin-Robinson 2014, pp. 128
  16. ^ Fiachra Gibbons, Arts correspondent (5 May 2000). "The Queen shares a joke with Lady Thatcher". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 10 December 2011.
  17. ^ "Duchess of Cambridge announces charity patronages". BBC News. 5 January 2012.
  18. ^ 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.
  19. ^ Mills, Eleanor (15 March 2017), Bodelwyddan Castle to sever ties with National Portrait Gallery, Museums Association, retrieved 16 March 2017
  20. ^ "Unprecedented expansion for the National Portrait Gallery". Retrieved 15 June 2017.
  21. ^ "Inspiring People: Transforming our National Portrait Gallery". Retrieved 15 June 2017.
  22. ^ "National Portrait Gallery Corporate Plan 2016-19" (PDF). Retrieved 15 June 2017.
  23. ^ "National Portrait Gallery". UK Government. Retrieved 5 September 2018.
  24. ^ a b c National Portrait Gallery Annual Report and Accounts 2007–2008 (PDF). National Audit Office. ISBN 978-0-10-295746-4. Retrieved 14 July 2009.
  25. ^ Charities Act 1993, Schedule 2.
  26. ^ "Obituary of his father, the chemist Henry Wilson Hake". 1 January 1930. Retrieved 10 December 2011.
  27. ^ "Who Was Who entry". 1 January 2000. Retrieved 10 December 2011.
  28. ^ "Who Was Who entry". 1 January 2000. Retrieved 10 December 2011.
  29. ^ Orlowski, Andrew (13 July 2009). "National Portrait Gallery bitchslaps Wikipedia". The Register. Retrieved 27 July 2009.
  30. ^ a b Atkinson, Rebecca (22 August 2012). "NPG changes image licensing to allow free downloads". Museums Journal. Retrieved 21 May 2013.


  • Martin-Robinson, John (2014). Requisitioned: The British Country House in the Second World War. London: Arum. ISBN 978-1-78131-095-3.

Further reading

  • Cannadine, David, National Portrait Gallery: a Brief History, National Portrait Gallery, 2007, ISBN 978-1-85514-387-6
  • Hulme, Graham, The National Portrait Gallery: an Architectural History, National Portrait Gallery Publications, 2000, ISBN 1-85514-293-7
  • Saumarez Smith, Charles, The National Portrait Gallery, 2nd. rev. ed., National Portrait Gallery, 2010, ISBN 978-1-85514-433-0

External links

Chandos portrait

The "Chandos" portrait is the most famous of the portraits that may depict William Shakespeare (1564–1616). Painted between 1600 and 1610, it may have served as the basis for the engraved portrait of Shakespeare used in the First Folio in 1623. It is named after the Dukes of Chandos, who formerly owned the painting. The portrait was given to the National Portrait Gallery, London on its foundation in 1856, and it is listed as the first work in its collection.It has not been possible to determine with certainty who painted the portrait, nor whether it really depicts Shakespeare. However, the National Portrait Gallery believes that it probably does depict the writer.

David Rees-Williams, 1st Baron Ogmore

David Rees Rees-Williams, 1st Baron Ogmore, PC, TD (22 November 1903 – 30 August 1976) was a British politician.

Geoffrey Lunt

Geoffrey Charles Lester Lunt (1885–1948) was an Anglican bishop in the 20th century.Born into an ecclesiastical family and educated at Sherborne and Exeter College, Oxford he was ordained in 1909. His first post was as curate at Christ Church, Clifton, Bristol, after which he was secretary of the Church Missionary Society for Public Schools and Young People’s Work then vicar of St Paul’s, Bedminster. A chaplain to the Forces in France during World War I he was awarded the Military Cross in the 1918 Birthday Honours. When peace returned he became vicar of All Saints, Northampton then archdeacon of Egypt. From 1928 he was vicar of St Mary’s, Portsea, Portsmouth, the largest parish of the city. before his appointment to the episcopate as bishop of Ripon. He was translated to Salisbury in 1946 and died in post two years later.

Gervase Babington

Gervase Babington (1549/1550–1610) was an English churchman, serving as the Bishop of Llandaff (1591–1594), Bishop of Exeter (1594–1597) and Bishop of Worcester in 1597–1610. He was a member of the Babington family and held influential offices at the same time as his cousin Anthony Babington was executed for treason against Elizabeth I as part of the Babington Plot.

Harold Browne

Edward Harold Browne (usually called Harold Browne; 6 March 1811 – 18 December 1891) was a bishop of the Church of England.

Henry Bruce, 2nd Baron Aberdare

Henry Campbell Bruce, 2nd Baron Aberdare VD, DL, JP (19 June 1851 – 20 February 1929), styled The Honourable from 1873 to 1895, was a British soldier and peer.

Henry Cecil Raikes

Henry Cecil Raikes PC (18 November 1838 – 24 August 1891) was a British Conservative Party politician. He was Chairman of Ways and Means between 1874 and 1880 and served as Postmaster General between 1886 and 1891.

Henry de Candole (priest)

The Very Rev Henry Lawe Corry Vully de Candole DD, MA (17 December 1868, Bayswater – 15 December 1933) was Dean of Bristol from 1926 until his death in 1933.He was born on 17 February 1868, educated at St Paul's and Christ's College, Cambridge, and ordained in 1891. His first post was at Portman Chapel. He held incumbencies at St James’, Cheltenham, St Paul’s, Ball's Pond, Holy Trinity, Cambridge and St John's, Smith Square, his last appointment before the Deanery. He died on 15 December 1933, and was buried in Bristol Cathedral.

John Dankworth

Sir John Phillip William Dankworth, CBE (20 September 1927 – 6 February 2010), also known as Johnny Dankworth, was an English jazz composer, saxophonist, clarinetist and writer of film scores. With his wife, jazz singer Dame Cleo Laine, he was a music educator and also her music director.

John Hamilton-Gordon, 1st Marquess of Aberdeen and Temair

John Campbell Hamilton-Gordon, 1st Marquess of Aberdeen and Temair (3 August 1847 – 7 March 1934), known as The Earl of Aberdeen from 1870 to 1916, was a Scottish politician. Born in Edinburgh, Hamilton-Gordon held office in several countries, serving twice as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland (1886; 1905–1915) and serving from 1893 to 1898 as the seventh Governor General of Canada.

Lesley Yellowlees

Lesley Jane Yellowlees, (born 1953) is a British inorganic chemist conducting research in Spectroelectrochemistry, Electron transfer reactions and Electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR) Spectroscopy. Yellowlees was also elected as the president of the Royal Society of Chemistry 2012–14 and was the first woman to hold that role .

Lionel Cust

Sir Lionel Henry Cust (25 January 1859 – 12 October 1929) was a British art historian, courtier and museum director. He was director of the National Portrait Gallery from 1895 to 1909 and co-edited The Burlington Magazine from 1909 to 1919. He was the father of Lionel George Archer Cust.

Mervyn Charles-Edwards

The Rt Rev (Lewis) Mervyn Charles-Edwards, DD was an Anglican Bishop in the third quarter of the 20th century. Born on 6 April 1902 he was educated at Shrewsbury and Keble College, Oxford. After this he studied for ordination at Lichfield Theological College followed by a Curacy at Christ Church, Tunstall. He then held incumbencies at Marchington and Market Drayton before becoming Rural Dean of Hodnet then Newark. An Honorary Chaplain to the King he was Vicar of St Martin in the Fields, London until his elevation to the Episcopate in 1956, serving for 14 years. A Sub-Prelate of the Order of St John of Jerusalem he died on 20 October 1983. Mervyn fathered two children, David and Jill.

National Portrait Gallery

National Portrait Gallery may refer to:

National Portrait Gallery (Australia), in Canberra

National Portrait Gallery, London, with satellite galleries in Denbighshire, North Yorkshire and Somerset

National Portrait Gallery (United States), in Washington, D.C.

Portrait Gallery of Canada, in Ottawa, Ontario

Scottish National Portrait Gallery, in Edinburgh

National Portrait Gallery (Sweden), in Mariefred

Oswin Gibbs-Smith

Oswin Harvard Gibbs-Smith, CBE (15 November 1901 – 26 September 1969) was Dean of Winchester in the third quarter of the 20th century.

Richard Bancroft

Richard Bancroft (1544 – 2 November 1610) was an English churchman who was Archbishop of Canterbury from 1604 to 1610 and the "chief overseer" of the production of the King James Bible.

Walter Matthews (priest)

Walter Robert Matthews (22 September 1881 – 5 December 1973) was an Anglican priest, theologian, and philosopher.

Watkin Williams (bishop)

Watkin Herbert Williams (22 August 1845 – 19 November 1944) was Dean of St Asaph from 1892 to 1899. and Bishop of Bangor from 1899 to 1925.Williams was educated at Westminster School and Christ Church, Oxford and ordained in 1871. He was vicar of Bodelwyddan from 1872 to 1892 and Archdeacon of St Asaph from 1889 to 1892.He was a very active Freemason, initiated as a student in 1868 in Oxford's Apollo University Lodge. In Wales he joined the Royal Denbigh Lodge, and became its Worshipful Master in 1883, becoming Provincial Grand Chaplain for North Wales in the same year. He became the Grand Chaplain of the United Grand Lodge of England, the most senior clerical appointment in Freemasonry, in 1898.

William Inge (priest)

William Ralph Inge (; 1860–1954) was an English author, Anglican priest, professor of divinity at Cambridge, and Dean of St Paul's Cathedral, which provided the appellation by which he was widely known, Dean Inge. He was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature three times.

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