Established in 1856, the National Portrait Gallery in London is the home to the world’s largest range of portraits featuring notable and celebrated Brits. Located on St Martin’s Place since 1896, the gallery is connected to the National Gallery and is a stone’s throw away from Trafalgar Square.
Prior to entering the gallery, visitors are faced with the busts of the three men who were pivotal in the creation of the gallery itself: Philip Henry Stanhope, the 5th Earl Stanhope (1805-1875), who was the main enforcer, along with Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-1859) and Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881). Stanhope tried on multiple occasions to convince the House of Commons and House of Lords to allow him to set up the gallery, failing twice before successfully doing so. After 40 relocations across Westminster, Exhibition Road and Bethnal Green, the location of the National Portrait Gallery finally took its place on St Martin’s Place as a result of a government donation. It has since been extended twice.
Stanhope’s aim, from the very beginning, was to place the focus not on the artist but on the person portrayed in the artwork, honouring the part they played in British history. The first portrait in the gallery was of William Shakespeare, who set the mark for the myriad of influential British people that visitors can encounter when strolling through the halls of the gallery. These include Edward VI, the Brontë Sisters, Princess Diana, and more recently, Amy Winehouse and Judi Dench. It is understood that since its conception, the gallery has been primarily about historical context and not about the art itself, which sets it apart from other galleries in London.
Today, the gallery is ranked the 7th most-visited museum in the UK and contains 195,000 portraits from time periods such as the Tudors and Elizabethans, the Victorian era, the 20th century and Contemporary era. Since January 2012, the gallery has been under the official patronage of Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge. In addition to its permanent collections, the gallery has a varied range of exhibitions, complimentary events and, after hours of immersive British history, a rooftop restaurant with breathtaking London views.
📅 Monday to Wednesday, Saturday & Sunday 10AM–6PM; Thursday & Friday 10AM–9PM