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National Portrait Gallery, London

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National Portrait Gallery

Entrance to the National Portrait Gallery
Established 1856
Location St Martin's Place, WC2, England
Collection size 10,000 portraits
Visitor figures

1,961,843 (2009)[1]

  • Ranked 8th nationally
Director Sandy Nairne
Public transit access Charing Cross Aiga railtransportation 25.svg Bakerloo roundel1.PNG Northern roundel1.PNG
Embankment Bakerloo roundel1.PNG Circle roundel1.PNG District roundel1.PNG Northern roundel1.PNG (Aiga railtransportation 25.svg Charing Cross 100m)
Leicester Square Northern roundel1.PNG Piccadilly roundel1.PNG

The National Portrait Gallery (NPG) is an art gallery in London. It holds 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.[2]

The gallery moved in 1896 to its current site at St Martin's Place, off Trafalgar Square, next to the National Gallery. It has been expanded twice since then. The National Portrait Gallery also has three regional outposts. It is not connected to the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh. The NPG is a quango sponsored by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

The collection

Inside the National Portrait Gallery

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.[3]

One of its best-known images is the 'Chandos portrait', the most famous portrait of William Shakespeare[4] although there is some uncertainty about whether the painting actually is of the playwright.[5]

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 Some, such as the group portrait of the participants in the Somerset House Conference of 1604, are important historical documents in their own right.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 portrait of Edward VI by William Scrots, Patrick 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.

The Gallery has many portrait busts by sculptors. The sculptors are mostly British or resident in Britain, and the subjects are British. Sculptors include poineers of modern sculpture such as Sir Jacob Epstein (14 examples), Dame Elizabeth Frink (5 examples), Sir Eduardo Paolozzi (four self-portrait busts).