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The National Portrait Gallery in London
A portrait is one of the most intimate pieces of art. It is a drawing of a person, from the artist’s point of view. The National Portrait Gallery in London was the first portrait gallery in the world upon its opening in 1856. Over the centuries, the gallery has housed the world's largest collection of personalities and faces dating from the late Middle Ages to prominent figures today.
The National Portrait Gallery was formally opened on 2 December 1856. The Gallery first opened at 29 Great George Street in Westminster. With an increase in collection size from 57 to over 200 items, they moved to Exhibition Road. After an unfortunate fire, the collection moved again in 1885 to the Bethnal Green Museum. It was a bit distant in the West End and a new site was to be created after donations from philanthropist William Henry Alexander, to create its current home. The government provided the site at St. Martin's Place, next door to the National Gallery. Its new location opened just before the turn of the century on 4 April, 1896.
The National Portrait Gallery Extends in the 20th Century
The gallery began to make extensions thanks to the funding by Lord Duveen in 1933, making the gallery run along Orange Street. A larger wing opened in 2000 after a £12m Heritage Lottery Fund. It bridges the gap between the two buildings of the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery.
What does it take to be featured in the National Portrait Gallery? Simply be of significance to the British world, not by the choice of the artist. Forms of art go beyond photographs to include paintings, caricatures and sculpture. The gallery is home to the "Chandos" portrait, one of the most famous to depict William Shakespeare. It is the distinctive images used in Shakespeare's First Folio in 1623, and now resonates as the image we know today.It was also listed as number one in the National Portrait Gallery's collection, as the first acquired piece upon its opening.
Some famous artists whose work is featured include William Hogarth and Sir Joshua Reynolds.
The Many Collections at The National Portrait Gallery
A visit to the National Portrait Gallery can be overwhelming with so many collections that are absolutely fascinating. There are three major collections to choose from: the Primary Collection, the Reference Collection, and the Photographs Collection.
The Primary Collection
With 11,000 portraits, the Primary Collection is one of the most prominent in the Gallery. About 4,000 are paintings that display portraits of the Nation's best men and women.
The Reference Collection
The Reference Collection, held in the Heinz Archive and Library features portraits of lesser known figures in British history. With more than 80,000 portraits, these works of art include drawings, silhouettes, and paintings. Some pieces include busts and silhouettes by Baden-Powell, diaries of Fanny Burney, and etchings of fellow Royal Academian’s by William Daniel and George Dance.
The Photographs Collection
There are 250,000 original photographic images dating from the 1840s to present day in the Photographs Collection. Some significant pieces include photographs by David Octivius Hill in the 19th century, Thomas Carlyle Album and 20th century Photographer Oliver Edis.
Navigating through the Gallery
The ground floor features galleries of Contemporary Portraits, a creative revival of Young British Artists focusing on new ways to capture a unique portrait. The first floor is the most visited, with pieces of the Victorian, Edwardian and early 20th century portraits. One can visit the permanent collection or the temporary works featured for a limited period of time. Head up to the second floor to view portraits of the Tudor through the Regency Period of Britain. These include portraits of King Henry VIII, Catherine of Aragon, and King George III. One of the most notable events is the annual BP Portrait Award ceremony for the best entrants of the year are celebrated.
Entry to the National Portrait Gallery is free; however some exhibits require a fee ranging from £3.00 to £14.00.
National Portrait Gallery Address
Located in the heart of London, it is easy to reach the National Portrait Gallery. By Underground, you can exit either at Charing Cross, Leicester Square and Embankment. There is a rail station at Charing Cross as well.