18 April 2023

The National Portrait Gallery in London

A journey among the portraits of the National Portrait Gallery in London that Scala is pleased to represent as official agent in Italy and in other countries.

With more than 220,000 works, including painting, sculpture, miniatures, prints, and photographs, the National Portrait Gallery in London tells the story of the United Kingdom through portraiture, from the 16th century to the present. Scala is pleased to be the official agent in Italy and other countries of this extraordinary collection. After three years of major renovations the National Portrait Gallery will reopen on June 22nd, 2023. You do not have to wait until June you can get a sneak preview with us.

Portraiture, from painting to photography.

Founded in 1856, the National Portrait Gallery in London was created with the purpose of fostering the memory and knowledge of illustrious figures in British history and culture. Strongly desired by members of the House of Lords, such as Philip Henry Stanhope, Thomas Babington Macaulay, and Thomas Carlyle, it found the approval of Queen Victoria and Parliament, which, in 1856, resolved to allocate £2,000 for the establishment of the collection. The official opening of the museum took place on January 15, 1859. Initially the museum was housed in Great George Street but as the collection gradually expanded it was relocated several times until 1896 when it settled in its present location near the National Gallery, in St Martin’s Place.

The collection is organized chronologically. Portraiture, as an artistic genre, is the leitmotif of the collection, which boasts more than 220,000 pieces ranging from paintings to miniatures, drawings to prints, sculpture to photography. The works in this collection have always been selected based primarily on the significance of the character depicted, rather than the talent of the artist. Despite this methodology, there are several unique masterpieces, such as the famous ‘Chandos portrait’ of William Shakespeare, attributed to John Taylor, and works by great masters such as Holbein, Rubens, Hogarth, Reynolds, Gainsborough, and Sargent just to name a few.

Focusing on a single genre, instead of being a limiting factor, allows for in depth studies on certain themes. Here are some series as examples:

Portraits of people wearing crowns, tiaras, and garlands

Portraits that include a book, book collection or library

Portraits showing choreography, dance steps and dancers

Furthermore The National Portrait Gallery is a valuable collection in the study of art history and the evolution of styles and techniques; it allows to investigate how over the course of the nineteenth century we passed from pictorial portraiture to photographic portraiture. It also shows how photography can take on both documentary and artistic connotations when one encounters shots by master photographers. Indeed, the National Portrait Gallery holds some 250,000 originals, including 130,000 negatives, from 1840 to the present.

Significant shots from the Victorian era include a body of more than 100 prints by Julia Margaret Cameron, Lewis Carroll‘s shots, including The Christ Church Album.

Royalty, and more.

Kings and queens of England have a place of honor in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery in London. Before 1969 there was a rule by statute that the gallery could keep only paintings of people who had been dead for at least ten years, with the sole exception of kings and queens.

Starting with the Tudors, with Elizabeth I, whose court fashion can be investigated

or witness how devoted Queen Victoria was to her own mourning

all the way to the present day, with portraits of Queen Elizabeth and Charles III, who is soon to be crowned (on May 6, 2023).

Alongside the royals are portraits of the most significant protagonists of English culture such as:

William Shakespeare, whose “Chandos Portrait,” after three and a half years of research and detailed examination of six paintings, is now considered by the National Portrait Gallery to be the portrait that shows the true face of the poet and playwright.

the Brontë sisters, in this three-person portrait (left to right: Anne, Emily and Charlotte Brontë) which was found in 1914 folded on top of a cupboard by the second wife of Charlotte Brontë’s husband, the Rev. A.B. Nicholls. A male figure, previously hidden by a painted pillar, can be glimpsed in the center of the group; it is almost certainly a self-portrait of the artist’s brother Branwell Brontë.

Jane Austen, in this sketch made by the writer’s sister and closest confidante, Cassandra. This is the only reasonably certain portrait showing Austen’s face. From this portrait was taken the late 19th-century engraving later reproduced on the ten-pound bill.

Since 1969, the National Portrait Gallery has been commissioning portraits of living personalities, from more or less well-known artists.

New collections and upcoming exhibitions

The architectural rennovation of the St Martin’s Place building is accompanied by a rethinking of the exhibition itinerary, which will leave more space for contemporary art forms, especially photography.

As part of the reopening, scheduled for June 2023, the National Portrait Gallery will emphasize a three-year research project, entitled Women in Portraiture. As part of this policy, will result in temporary exhibitions dedicated to pioneering women photographers, the museum acquired the Yevonde archive in 2021, the most significant color archive of photography by a major female performer of the 20th century. From June 22 to October 15, 2023, it will be possible to visit the exhibition Yevonde: Life and Color.

In parallel, the National Portrait Gallery will open an exhibition in June featuring never-before-seen shots of the Beatles by Paul McCartney: Paul McCartney Photographs 1963-64: Eyes of the Storm (June 28-October 1, 2023).


Are you interested in acquiring images which are part of the National Portrait Gallery of London?

Scala is pleased to represent the National Portrait Gallery of London as its official agent in Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Brazil, Mexico, Chile, Venezuela, Colombia, Argentina, and Ecuador.

Contact us for more information and dedicated searches.


On the cover: Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, Queen Mary, Prince George, Duke of Kent, Princess Mary, Countess of Harewood, Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent, Princess Margaret, Maud Charlotte Mary Victoria, Queen of Norway, Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester, King George VI, Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester by Hay Wrightson. Maggio 1937, National Portrait Gallery, London, Great Britain.