The National Portrait Gallery is an art gallery in London, which houses portraits of historically important and famous British people. These have been selected on the basis of the significance of the sitter rather than that of the artist. The collection includes photographs and caricatures as well as paintings, drawings and sculpture.
When it opened in 1856 it was the first portrait gallery in the world. In 1896 the gallery moved to its current site at St Martin’s Place where it adjoins the National Gallery, which is on Trafalgar Square. The National Portrait Gallery has been expanded twice since that date and also has three regional outposts in the UK at Beningbrough Hall, Bodelwyddan Castle and Montacute House.
The three people largely responsible for the founding of the National Portrait Gallery are commemorated with busts over the main entrance. At centre is Philip Henry Stanhope, 5th Earl Stanhope. On his left side is Thomas Babington Macaulay, 1st Baron Macaulay and to his right is Thomas Carlyle.
As a Member of Parliament Stanhope first proposed the idea of a National Portrait Gallery in 1846. It was not until his third attempt after he had been elevated to the House of Lords, that the proposal was accepted in 1856. With the approval of Queen Victoria a sum of £2,000 was set aside by the House of Commons to establish the gallery. As well as Stanhope and Macaulay, the founding trustees included Benjamin Disraeli and Lord Ellesmere. Carlyle became a trustee after the death of Ellesmere in 1857.
One of its best-known images is the Chandos portrait – the most famous portrait of William Shakespeare. Lord Ellesmere had donated the portrait to the nation as the gallery’s first portrait. However there is still some uncertainty about whether the painting actually is of the playwright.
The Gallery regularly stages special exhibitions. For example between 17 March and 26 June 2016 an exhibition entitled Russia and the Arts is being held. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see masterpieces on loan from the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow. The exhibition will focus on the great writers, artists, composers and patrons, including Tolstoy, Chekhov and Dostoevsky. Their achievements helped develop an extraordinary and rich cultural scene in Russia between 1867 and 1914.
This exhibition will also show how Russian art during that period was developing a new self-confidence. Visitors will see the penetrating Realism of the 1870s and 1880s. Later on this is complemented by the brighter hues of Russian Impressionism and the bold, faceted forms of Symbolist painting.
For more information about the gallery go to www.npg.org.uk/
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