The National Portrait Gallery

The National Portrait Gallery was founded in 1856 with the aim of collecting the portraits of famous men and women.  The brains behind the idea was Philip Henry Stanhope and a bust of him can be seen as you enter into the gallery.  Along with Thomas Carlyle and Thomas Babington, Stanhope took his idea to the House of Commons and it was on the third time of pleasing that along with the Queen’s blessing, the National Portrait Gallery was formed.

Photo by David Holt
Photo by David Holt

History Not Art

Unlike most of the other galleries that you will come across in London the aim of the National Portrait Gallery is to be more about history than art.  By this note, the decision of whether or not a portrait would be displayed rested more on the person that the painting was done of rather than who painted it.  This mantra is still in place today.  Originally the rules of the gallery stated that only people who were deceased would be included in the gallery (except for royalty) however this rule is a bit more relaxed today.

The Duchess of Cambridge

The current patron of the National Portrait Gallery is Kate Middleton, otherwise known as the Duchess of Cambridge.  She was given the title in January 2012 due to her appreciation of the arts.  The Duchess made her first appearance at the gallery at the beginning of February 2012 to look at the Lucian Freud exhibition.  She has since said that she hopes her association with the gallery will help to encourage more people to visit the gallery and take an interest in both history and art.

Current Collections and Exhibitions

There are a number of collections currently in place at the gallery including a primary collection of more than 11,000 paintings and sculptures featuring some of the most known characters in history.  Recent acquisitions include the portraits of princes William and Harry as well as drawings of Cyril Mann, the three witches from Macbeth and Shirley Hughes.

There are also a number of exhibitions that are currently showing at the gallery.  The Queen: Art and Image is perhaps the most popular due to her Diamond Jubilee.  A number of formal and commissioned portraits are on show as are a number of media prints to images by world famous artists.  The exhibition showcases work by a number of well known artists including Andy Warhol, Lucian Freud and Gerhard Richter.  This exhibition will continue to run until the 21st October 2012.

How to Get There

The National Portrait Gallery is located on St Martin’s Place and can be reached via the Charing Cross and Leicester Square underground stations.  The gallery is open from 10am-6pm daily with the exception of Thursdays and Fridays when it is open until 9pm.  The gallery also has an in-house restaurant which serves a modern day British menu and is definitely worth checking out if you have the time, if not purely for the amazing views over the city of London.  Entrance into the National Portrait Gallery is free.

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