National Portrait Gallery

As the world’s first gallery to feature purely portraits, the National Portrait Gallery, London is dedicated to exhibiting key historical figures.

The London Pass London Pass Benefits: Access to fee paying exhibitions or a free Guidebook worth £5 with the London Pass Exhibition prices range from £5.00 to £17.00

Home to over 11,000 portraits, the National Portrait Gallery was the first in the world of its kind and is one of London’s most famous art galleries. 

 

Explore the National Portrait Gallery – Enjoy access to current exhibitions or a visitor’s guidebook with the London Pass®

- Pay nothing at the door – simply show your pass
- View over 11,000 portraits of crucial British figures
- Tour several floors filled with various sculptures, medals, coins, death masks, wax busts, pottery figures, papier-mache models, prints, taxidermy, and films.
- The pass grants you access to any current exhibitions, tours, and lectures included with

 

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- National Portrait Gallery history

- National Portrait Gallery highlights

- National Portrait Gallery facts

- Current exhibitions

- Know before you go

- Make the most of your London Pass®

- How to get there

 

National Portrait Gallery history

The National Portrait Gallery made history as the first gallery to solely display portraits. It is home to the most extensive collection of portraiture in the world. It proudly features men and women from the Middle Ages to the present day who have created history. This great foundation grew from humble beginnings. And its history is full of secrets that are as remarkable as the exhibitions it houses. 

In 1846, Phillip Henry Stanhope, the 4th Earl Stanhope, introduced the idea to the House of Lords but was denied. Thomas Babington Macaulay and Thomas Carlyle supported stanhope. And today statues of them sit above the museum entrance. Stanhope approached the government again in 1852. He pleaded that the gallery would feature ‘the most honorably commemorated in British history as warriors or statesmen, or in arts, in literature or in science.’ Unfortunately, he was unsuccessful yet again.

Stanhope accomplished his mission in 1856 when Queen Victoria offered her support. The House of Commons awarded him the sum of £2000 to fund the ‘British Historical Portrait Gallery,’ now known as the National Portrait Gallery. Lord Ellesmere, a former Trustee of the National Gallery, donated the Chandos portrait of Shakespeare. It was the first painting to enter the gallery's collection.

 

The National Portrait Gallery first opened to the public in 1859. And for the next 13 years, it remained in George Scharf’s private home on 29 Great George Street, Westminster. It later moved to its current location. Its first collection consisted of only 42 portraits. Today visitors can view over 11,000 pictures in the London gallery. Including portraits of Henry VII, Florence Nightingale, The Beatles and the current monarch, Queen Elizabeth II.

Experience the ‘To Hide a Secret’ collection. It features paintings that researchers have revealed show secret alterations. For instance, the famous portrait of Elizabeth I holding feather that was later discovered to be a serpent. Or the self-portrait by William Hogarth that was X-rayed to reveal a hidden pug within its picture. 

It’s not just paintings that decorate the walls of the National Portrait gallery. It has long championed other forms of art. View the various sculptures, medals, coins, death masks, wax busts, pottery figures, papier-mache models, prints, taxidermy, and even films that make up its current displays. One particular piece stands out. Titled 'Marc Quinn’ self,' it features a self-portrait cast with 8 pints of his blood. Quinn describes his art as a ‘frozen moment on life-support.’ The cast is sustained in a chiller unit to remind viewers of the fragility of life.

Entry to the Portrait Gallery in London is free to the public, but The London Pass grants you access to the current exhibitions at no extra cost. When an exhibition is not showing, London Pass holders will receive a fully illustrated Visitor’s Guide worth £5.00.

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National Portrait Gallery Highlights

  • See a broad collection of over 11,000 portraits.

  • Explore the work of numerous international contemporary artists.

  • Discover other forms of art, including sculptures, medals, coins, death masks, wax busts, pottery figures, papier Mache models, prints, taxidermy, and film.

  • Take part in various free workshops run throughout the year. Sign up required.

  • Take advantage of the galleries late opening every Friday and enjoy live music, drop-in drawing, and life drawing sessions, plus various talks and film screenings.

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National Portrait Gallery Facts

  • A secret tunnel runs under Orange street connecting the public gallery buildings to its staff offices.

  • The current National Portrait Gallery offices were once a nightclub where Audrey Hepburn performed.

  • In 1909, a man shot his wife dead and then took his own life in the public library. It has since been converted to office space.

  • In November 1941, two bombs fell on the gallery. One demolished a staircase, and the other fell in the courtyard near the directors sleeping quarters, luckily there were no casualties.

  • There are four beehives on the roof of the Orange street office that is managed by the gallery’s staff, and it is sold in the gallery shop.

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Current exhibitions 

Cindy Sherman
Until 15th September 2019

Experience the work of Cindy Sherman, the self-portrait artist. Sherman is one of the most influential portrait photographers in contemporary art. The new collection explores 150 works from the mid-1970s to the present day from both international public and private collections. Plus new work never before displayed in a public gallery. 

BP Portrait Award 2019
Until 20th October 2019

 The BP Portrait Award is the most prestigious portrait painting competition in the world. It represents the very best in contemporary portrait painting with a total prize fund of £74,000. Over the years, it has attracted over 40,000 entries from more than 100 countries and is now in its 40th year at the National Portrait Gallery. Come and experience a collection of great talent, develop portraiture in their work. 

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Know before you go

  • Discover a range of learning activities for families. All special exhibitions are free for children under 12.

  • The gallery offers a free clickable floorplan to make traveling through the venue a breeze. Be sure to download the handy pdf from the gallery’s website before you visit.

  • The Gallery also hosts various workshops, classes and evening events such as Friday Lates, be sure to check the gallery’s website for current schedule and details on availability.

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Make the most of your London Pass

  • Located right in the heart of London next to Trafalgar Square, the Portrait Gallery is also situated close to several other key London attractions including The Mall and St James’ Park. There are also several London restaurants nearby offering discounts and special offers to London Pass® holders including Maxwell’s Restaurant in Covent Garden and Porters English Restaurant.

  • Art lovers should consider visiting the National Gallery. It’s just a stones-throw away in Trafalgar Square. London Pass® holders can benefit from a free audiobook and experience one of the world’s most significant collections of art.

 

For more things to do in London, check out The London Pass® Blog.

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How to get there

Tube

Charing Cross - Bakerloo and Northern Lines
Leicester Square - Northern and Piccadilly Lines
Piccadilly Circus - Bakerloo and Piccadilly Lines
Embankment – Bakerloo and Northern Lines 

Train

Charing Cross Station

Bus

24, 29, 176 from Trafalgar Square stop C or Charring Cross Road stop K

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The National Portrait Gallery opens every day from 10 am. For details about last admission times and any planned closures, please click here.

See the full list of attractions. 

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Getting to National Portrait Gallery

Getting to National Portrait Gallery

  • National Portrait Gallery St Martin's Place London WC2H 0HE

Opening Times

Monday 10.00 - 18.00
Tuesday 10.00 - 18.00
Wednesday 10.00 - 18.00
Thursday 10.00 - 21.00
Friday 10.00 - 21.00
Saturday 10.00 - 18.00
Sunday 10.00 - 18.00
Last Admission: 1 hour before closing

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