The National Portrait Gallery, London – Reopens Its Doors

The National Portrait Gallery, London - Reopens Its Doors
Ross Place Enterance at the new National Portrait Gallery © Olivier Hess
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The National Portrait Gallery, London reopens its doors on 22nd June, following the most extensive transformation of its building since 1896. The transformational project comprises a complete redisplay of the Collection, a significant refurbishment of the building, the creation of new public spaces, a more welcoming visitor entrance and public forecourt, and a new learning centre. The project has been made possible by major grants from the Blavatnik Family Foundation, The National Lottery Heritage Fund, the Garfield Weston Foundation and the Ross Foundation.

The Principal Partner of the new NPG, Bank of America, have supported the First Look Festival and £5 exhibition tickets for young people. The Gallery’s reopening is supported by Reopening Partner, Herbert Smith Freehills, longstanding supporter.

The world’s greatest collection of portraits, spanning six centuries, has been re-presented in beautifully renewed galleries and revitalised spaces. The chronological hang will take visitors on a journey through history, from the Middle Ages to the present day, telling the story of the United Kingdom through portraits. This incorporates the new Blavatnik Wing, encompassing nine elegantly refurbished rooms, which will exhibit some of the greatest portraits in the Collection, exploring society and culture in the 19th and early 20th centuries and showcasing works by the finest painters of the period, from Sir John Everett Millais and John Singer Sargent to Laura Knight and Lucian Freud.

The National Portrait Gallery, London - Reopens Its Doors
Ross Place Enterance at the new National Portrait Gallery © Olivier Hess

The complete transformation of the building has increased public space by around a fifth, including converting office space into stunning top-lit galleries in the newly named Weston Wing, which will house the Gallery’s contemporary collection. This suite of galleries, including The Mary Weston Gallery, will display portraits by world-leading artists such as Andreas Gursky, David Hockney, Steve McQueen, Shirin Neshat, Sam Taylor-Johnson and Gillian Wearing.

On the ground floor, a new ‘History Makers’ display, in The National Lottery Heritage Fund Gallery, will connect visitors with a dynamic range of people influencing society and culture today. This includes campaigner Baroness Doreen Lawrence, Wimbledon Champion Andy Murray, grime artist Stormzy, England footballer Lucy Bronze, actor Riz Ahmed and a tapestry by artist Michael Armitage, that depicts four refuse collectors at work during the UK’s first national lockdown in 2020.

What’s new

The new Ross Place entrance on the North Fac;ade has created an accessible way in and re­ orientated the building to face the city, presenting a generous welcome and linking the Gallery with the vibrant area of London on its doorstep, with a new outdoor forecourt for both the public and Gallery visitors. Three windows have been altered to form doorways that will lead to a large, open entrance hall. Artist Tracey Emin was commissioned to create an artwork for the Gallery’s new doors, incorporating 45 low-relief bronze panels, representing ‘every woman, throughout time’. All entrances to the Gallery are now accessible, with step­ free access via the new doorways on Ross Place and the entrance on St Martin’s Place.

Led by Jamie Fobert Architects, alongside heritage architects Purcell, there has been a complete refurbishment and reconsideration of the Grade I listed building, restoring many historic features and revealing hidden areas, including a Victorian terrazzo floor. The project has opened many original windows, doors and roof lights to bring in natural light and connect the Gallery to the city that surrounds it. The scheme will enrich the visitor experience by improving facilities, bringing into use areas that were previously unused and creating new public spaces fit for 21st century audiences.

A major element of the project has been the creation of The Mildred and Simon Palley Learning Centre, which will provide excellent learning experiences and opportunities for children, young people, community groups and adult learners. The Centre has more than doubled the Gallery’s provision for learners, increasing from one studio to three – The Law Photography Studio, The Art Studio and The Clore Studio – and incorporating a gallery, state of the art digital and photography equipment and improved facilities such as a lunchroom and a new outdoor space, named The Mildred Garden.

Over 1,100 portraits will be on display when the Gallery reopens on 22 June 2023 – an increase of over a third from pre-closure. All galleries have been beautifully refurbished in a scheme created by interpretation designers Nissen Richards Studio in collaboration with the Gallery’s curatorial team. In addition to displaying many of our best-loved and most familiar portraits, from Holbein’s majestic drawing of Henry VIII to Sam Taylor Johnson’s film of David Beckham sleeping, the Gallery has commissioned, acquired and borrowed new works to present a wider selection of people and stories.

Important new contemporary commissions include portraits of Sir Nicholas Serota by Sir Steve McQueen, Zadie Smith by Toyin Ojih Odutola, Sir Michael Eavis by Sir Peter Blake and Work in Progress by Jann Haworth and Liberty Blake. Loans of key sitters include Lady Margaret Beaufort, portrayed in the earliest known full-length portrait of an Englishwoman, 19th century mathematician and computer pioneer, Ada Lovelace by Margaret Sarah Carpenter and Anglo-Indian soldier Lieutenant Colonel James Skinner by the Delhi Court artist Ghulam Husayn Khan.

Newly named spaces in the Gallery in recognition of support:

The Blavatnik Wing
The National Lottery Heritage Fund Gallery The Weston Wing
Ross Place
The Mildred and Simon Palley Learning Centre

The Borthwick Room
The Inger and Bjorn Saven Gallery The Lady Carol Djanogly Gallery
The Harry and Carol Djanogly Gallery The Ross Gallery
The Foyle Gallery
The David and Claudia Harding Gallery The Deborah Loeb Brice Gallery
The Weldon Gallery
The Julia and Hans Rausing Gallery The Mary Weston Gallery
The Law Photography Studio The Clore Studio
The Mildred Garden

What’s on at The National Portrait Gallery

Paul McCartney Photographs 1963–64 Eyes of the Storm
28 June – 1 October 2023

An unprecedented exhibition, revealing – for the first time – extraordinary photographs taken by Paul McCartney. In this show, we focus on portraits captured by McCartney, using his own camera, between December 1963 and February 1964 – a time when The Beatles were catapulted from a British sensation to a global phenomenon. These never-before-seen images offer a uniquely personal perspective on what it was like to be a ‘Beatle’ at the start of ‘Beatlemania’ – and adjusting from playing gigs on UK stages, to performing to 73 million Americans on The Ed Sullivan Show. At a time when so many camera lenses were on the band, Paul McCartney’s photographs offer a crucial new perspective on the story of a band creating cultural history – in one of its most exciting chapters.

The National Portrait Gallery, London - Reopens Its Doors
Shortlisted portraits in the Taylor Wessing Photo Portrait Prize 2023. L -R: me nana fie by Serena Brown © Serena Brown; Shaun Ryder by Jake Green © Jake Green; Chotu Lal Upside-down by Carl Francois van der Linde from the series Our Leader © Carl Francois van der Linde.

Taylor Wessing Photo Portrait Prize 2023
9 November 2023 – 25 February 2024

The Taylor Wessing Photo Portrait Prize returns to the Gallery in St Martin’s Place after three years. Showcasing talented young photographers, gifted amateurs and established professionals, the competition celebrates a diverse range of images and tells the often fascinating stories behind the creation of the works. The selected images, many of which are on display for the first time, explore both traditional and contemporary approaches to the photographic portrait whilst capturing a range of characters, moods and locations. In addition to first, second and third prizes, the National Portrait Gallery has also launched a new £8,000 commission.

This year’s In Focus display will feature work by Moroccan-British artist Hassan Hajjaj.

David Hockney Drawing from Life
2 November 2023 – 21 January 2024

The Gallery’s autumn programme will see the return of the five-star exhibition, ‘David Hockney: Drawing from Life’, which was staged for just 20 days before the Gallery’s closure due to Covid in March 2020. 

The National Portrait Gallery, London - Reopens Its Doors
L-R: David Hockney Painting Harry Styles, (With Portrait of Clive Davis), Normandy Studio, 1st June 2022. Photo: Jean-Pierre Gonçalves de Lima; Harry Styles, 31st May 2022 by David Hockney. Acrylic on canvas. 1219.2 × 914.4 mm © David Hockney.
Photo Credit: Jonathan Wilkinson, Collection of the artist.

The exhibition explores the artist’s work over the last six decades through his intimate portraits of five sitters: his mother, Celia Birtwell, Gregory Evans, Maurice Payne and the artist himself. His familiarity with the sitters enables him to work with a range of mediums and styles, from pencil, pen and ink and crayon, to photographic collage and the iPad. The 2023 exhibition will also debut a selection of over thirty new portraits. Painted from life they depict friends and visitors to the artist’s Normandy studio between 2021 and 2022.

Yevonde Life and Colour
22 June – 15 October 2023

An exploration of the life and career of Yevonde, the pioneering London photographer who spearheaded the use of colour photography in the 1930s.

Yevonde: Life and Colour tells the story of a woman who gained freedom through photography – as she experimented with her medium and blazed a new trail for portrait photographers. The exhibition features portraits and still-life works produced by Yevonde over a colourful sixty-year career, and draws on the archive of her work acquired by the Gallery in 2021, as well as extensive new research by our teams.

Yevonde: Life and Colour is supported by The CHANEL Culture Fund, and builds on Reframing Narratives: Women in Portraiture, a major partnership project that aims to enhance the representation of women in the Gallery’s Collection.

The Time is Always Now Artists Reframe the Black Figure
22 February – 19 May 2024

A major study of the Black figure – and its representation in contemporary art. 

The exhibition, curated by Ekow Eshun (former Director of the Institute of Contemporary Arts) showcases the work of contemporary artists from the African diaspora, including Michael Armitage, Lubaina Himid, Kerry James Marshall, Toyin Ojih Odutola and Amy Sherald, and highlights the use of figures to illuminate the richness and complexity of Black life. As well as surveying the presence of the Black figure in Western art history, we examine its absence – and the story of representation told through these works, as well as the social, psychological and cultural contexts in which they were produced.

©2023 NPG