National Portrait Gallery | History & Facts

The National Portrait Gallery museum located in London houses the nation's collections of photographs of British both women and men.

National Portrait Gallery | History & Facts

The National Portrait Gallery museum located in London houses the nation's collections of photographs of British both women and men. It is situated next to the National Gallery, north of Trafalgar Square, in Westminster.

The gallery was founded through an act of Parliament in 1856. It was located in various places until the current location, an Italian Renaissance-style structure created by Ewan Christian. It was opened in 1895/96. The building was expanded in the year 1933 and 2000, and a variety of gallery spaces were renovated over the 1980s and 1990s and into the years to come in the 2020s. The gallery also hosts exhibits of its vast collection in Montacute House, Somerset; Beningborough Hall, Shipton, Yorkshire as well as Gawthorpe Hall, Padiham, Lancashire. Bodelwyddan Castle, Denbighshire, Wales was the home of some of the gallery's collections from 1988 until 2018.

Collections that are part of the National Portrait Gallery comprise some 215,000 portraits made in a variety of media including medallions, paintings, drawings sculptures, photographs, motion photographs, and videos. The collection of portraits is mostly for historical purposes and is mostly composed of Britons with significant contributions to our nation's history from the Tudor era. The gallery's collections are organized chronologically, starting at the time of the Tudors and continuing through into the 20th century. The gallery's arrangement highlights different themes from British historical events and includes maps and other items from the past utilized to complement the images.

While the primary criterion for selection was always the fame of the subject, rather than the quality that the creator has, numerous exceptional works of art can be found included in the collection. Some of the many paintings of English monarchs is one painted created by Hans Holbein the Younger of Henry VIII with his father (c. 1537) as well as a stunning painting of Elizabeth I (c. 1575). Other notable works include Peter Paul Rubens's portraits of Thomas Howard, 2nd earl of Arundel (1629), and Sir Isaac Newton by Sir Godfrey Kneller (1702) as well as Warren Hastings by Sir Joshua Reynolds (1766-68). Self-portraits from Reynolds (c. 1747), Thomas Gainsborough (c. 1759), and George Stubbs (1781). Other notable works include the drawing of Jane Austen (c. 1810) by her sister, Cassandra Austen; a group portrait of the Bronte sisters (c. 1834) by their brother, Patrick Branwell Bronte; and a portrait from Thomas Carlyle (1867) by Julia Margaret Cameron. In 1969, the gallery changed its policy to allow portraits of living persons and this led to the acquisition of works such as self-portraits (1991) of Chris Ofili, a painting of Anna Wintour (2009) by Alex Katz, and a photo of Malala Yousafzai (2018) by Shirin Neshat.

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