Essential Architecture-  London

National Portrait Gallery


Ewan Christian, built by Shillitoe & Son


Trafalgar Square - St Martin's Place, WC2, England Nearest tube station(s) Charing Cross, Embankment, Leicester Square




Neo-Renaissance NeoClassical




The National Portrait Gallery is an art gallery primarily located in St Martin's Place, off Trafalgar Square in London, but with various satellite outstations located elsewhere in the UK.

The collection
The gallery opened to the public in 1856. It houses portraits of historically important and famous British people, selected on the basis of the significance of the sitter. The collection includes photographs and caricatures as well as paintings, drawings and sculpture. The National Portrait Gallery also houses the Chandos portrait, arguably the most famous portrait of William Shakespeare.

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 Some, such as the group portrait of the participants in the Somerset House Conference of 1604, are important historical documents in their own right.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

The Gallery moved to its present building north of and adjacent to the National Gallery in 1896. It was designed by Ewan Christian in a Neo-Renaissance style, built by Shillitoe & Son and has been expanded twice. The first extension was funded by Lord Duveen in 1933, whose wing runs along Orange Street, and the second by Dr. Christopher Ondaatje in 2000. The Ondaatje Wing occupies a slither of land between the two 19th-century buildings of the National Gallery and the NPG and is notable for its immense, two-storey escalator that takes visitors to the earliest part of the collection, the Tudor portraits.

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.

In January 2008, the Gallery received its largest single donation to date, a £5m gift from US billionaire Randy Lerner.

George Scharf - 1857-1894/5
Lionel Cust (1859-1929)[5][6] - 1895-1909
Charles John Holmes (1868–1936)[7][8] - 1909-1916
James Milner - 1917-1927
Sir Henry Hake (1892-1951) - 1927-1951[9][10]
Charles Kingsley Adams (1899-1971) - 1951-1964[11]
David Piper[12] - 1964-1967
Roy Strong - 1967-73
John Hayes - 1974-94
Charles Saumarez Smith - 1994-2002
Sandy Nairne - 2002-present

^ Association of Leading Visitor Attractions
^ Every great country must have its portrait gallery
^ Hulme, Graham pg 105
^ He was previously at the Department of Prints and Drawings at the British Museum, and from 1901 to 1927 filled the role of Surveyor of the King's Pictures.
^ Dictionary of National Biography entry
^ Later director of the National Gallery.
^ DNB entry
^ Obituary of his father, the chemist Henry Wilson Hake
^ Who Was Who entry
^ Who Was Who entry
^ Later director of the Fitzwilliam Museum and fellow of Christ's College, Cambridge (1967–73), and first ever director of the Ashmolean Museum (1973–85).

Further reading
Hulme, Graham, The National Portrait Gallery - An Architectural History, National Portrait Gallery Publications, 2000, ISBN 1 85514 293 7


The complete illustrated Catalogue
National Portrait Gallery: A Visitor's Guide by John Cooper (New edition 2006)
To search the collection
NPG at Bodelwyddan Castle