The National Portrait Gallery Has Royals in the Spotlight
London’s National Portrait Gallery is just next door to the larger National Gallery in Trafalgar Square, so visitors sometimes overlook it. But history buffs, gawkers, artists, bookworms, students and tourists won't want to miss it. And admission is free.
Founded in 1856, the gallery collects and displays portraits of Britain’s most famous men and women. Its first painting was a donation of a now-famous but then-controversial portrait of William Shakespeare. Now, it’s part of a permanent collection numbering more than 185,000 works representing subjects ranging from pop stars to prime ministers. About 1,400 items are on view at any one time, covering five centuries of personalities.
The collection includes work across all media, from painting and sculpture to photography and video. Before 1969, a likeness of any person was not accepted until 10 years following his or her death.
According to its website, "The National Portrait Gallery was established with the criteria that the Gallery was to be about history, not about art, and about the status of the sitter, rather than the quality or character of a particular image considered as a work of art." That’s one reason for its more talked-about acquisitions, one of which is its latest major work of the British royal family.
The latest portrait to join the collection is of Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge. The gallery added it in January 2013, one year after she became a patron of the National Portrait Gallery. Immediately following the portrait's unveiling, there was widespread criticism that the painting did not do justice to its sitter. The duchess and her husband, Prince William, helped select the artist, Paul Emsley, who was on hand as the couple praised the work at the unveiling.
Emsley has explained that since Kate Middleton was at the beginning of her public career, she preferred a relaxed, personal portrait rather than an official one. This portrait will most likely be just the first of many. According to the BBC, Queen Elizabeth II has already sat for 129 portraits.