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National Gallery
National Portrait Gallery

National Portrait Gallery, London

The National Portrait Gallery is a famous art gallery in London and located adjacent to the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square. The art gallery opened in 1856 and houses portraits of important and famous people in British history. It is a popular attraction in London receiving around two million visitors each year. Entry to the art gallery is free.

Philip Henry Stanhope, Thomas Babington Macaulay and Thomas Carlyle founded the National Portrait Gallery in 1856. The busts of the three founders are located near the art gallery’s main entrance. The National Portrait Gallery was the first portrait gallery in the world when it initially opened. The portraits span five centuries starting from the Tudor period in the 16th century to the present day. Besides paintings, the portraits are also in other forms including drawings, medallions and sculptures as well as photographs and caricatures.

National Portrait Gallery by Matt Harrop


The National Portrait Gallery moved around several locations in London after it initially opened and finally settled at its present location at St Martin’s Place in 1896. Today, the art gallery has over 10,000 portraits ranging from kings, queens and nobility to famous musicians, films stars and artists. The portraits collected are not because of their merits but subjects who have played an important role in British history. Therefore, not all the portraits are exceptionally artistic although many are superb works of art.


Arrangement of the galleries are according to chronology starting from the 16th century Tudor period and through the 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th centuries to the present. There are extensive collections from the Tudor period mainly of royalties and nobilities. The ground floor of the gallery focuses on personalities in modern British history that include actors, musicians and fashion icons. In addition to the permanent galleries, there are temporary exhibitions of contemporary work by individual artists.

Paintings at the National Portrait Gallery by Herry Lawford

Portraits from the 16th century include King Henry VIII, Queen Mary I, Queen Elizabeth I, Cardinal Wolsey, Thomas More and Thomas Cromwell. Portraits from the 17th century include King Charles I and Oliver Cromwell. Portraits from the 18th century include King George III and the British explorer James Cook. 19th century portraits include Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert that include paintings, sculptures and photographs. Portraits from the modern era include Queen Elizabeth II, Winston Churchill, George Bernard Shaw, Richard Burton, Paul McCartney and Bob Geldof.

Sculptures and paintings by David Holt

One of the best-known portraits is the Chandos portrait by John Taylor (1610), believed to be that of the famous English playwright William Shakespeare. Other famous paintings include a portrait of Isaac Newton by Godfrey Kneller (1702), Thomas Howard by Peter Paul Rubens (1629) and Warren Hastings by Joshua Reynolds (1768). There is an interesting marble sculpture of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in medieval costume by William Theed (1867).

Visiting the National Portrait Gallery

Entrance to the National Portrait Gallery is free. The museum opens daily (closes on 24th, 25th and 26th December) from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday-Wednesday and from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Thursday-Friday.

The nearest London Underground stations are Embankment (serving the Bakerloo, Circle, District and Northern Lines) and Charing Cross (serving the Bakerloo and Northern Lines) Stations. Both stations are about 10 minutes walk from the National Portrait Gallery.

National Portrait Gallery on the Map

St Martin's Place, London WC2H 0HE, UK

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