National Portrait Gallery

National Portrait Gallery
a building in London containing thousands of paintings and photographs of famous people from British history. It is next to the National Gallery and was opened in 1896.

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      American gallery dedicated to portraiture of Americans. It is part of the Smithsonian Institution, located in Washington, D.C. (Washington)

      Although the Smithsonian Institution began collecting portraits in 1921, the National Portrait Gallery did not officially open until 1962. In 1976 the gallery, which had long limited its acquisitions to oil paintings, changed its criteria and began to accept portraits in any media, including photography and sculpture. This policy change greatly expanded the collection. The permanent collection consists of portraits of men and women who made important contributions to the United States and its culture and who have been dead for at least 10 years. It contains a complete collection of portraits of presidents and first ladies. The gallery considers the historical significance of the subject of a portrait more important than the artistic merit of the portrait and always seeks the most accurate likeness possible.

 In 1968 the National Portrait Gallery moved into the former Patent Office Building. This building, which the National Portrait Gallery shares with the Smithsonian American Art Museum, is on the National Historic Landmarks registry for its Greek Revival architecture and because it was the third public building constructed in Washington, D.C., after the White House and the Capitol building (Capitol, United States). The building, now known as the Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture, reopened in 2006 after undergoing renovations to emphasize its strongest architectural features, including porticos, vaulted ceilings, and a curving double staircase.

      The National Portrait Gallery features many research resources, including a searchable electronic database of more than 200,000 portraits from both the gallery and private collections. It also has collections of biographical information on well-known Americans, including the Charles Willson Peale (Peale, Charles Willson) family papers, which focus on important Americans in 18th- and 19th-century Maryland and Pennsylvania.

      museum in London that houses the national collection of portraits of British men and women. It is located adjacent to the National Gallery, north of Trafalgar Square, in Westminster (Westminster, City of).

      The gallery was founded by an act of Parliament in 1856 and was housed at a number of locations until its present home, an Italian Renaissance-style building designed by Ewan Christian, opened in 1895/96. The building was extended in 1933. The gallery also maintains displays from its extensive collection at Montacute House, Somerset; Beningborough Hall, Shipton, Yorkshire; Gawthorpe Hall, Padiham, Lancashire; and Bodelwyddan Castle, Denbighshire, Wales.

      The collection of the National Portrait Gallery comprises some 10,000 portraits in a variety of media: paintings, drawings, medallions, sculptures, photographs, motion pictures, and video recordings. The portraits are collected primarily for historical reasons and mainly consist of Britons who have made notable contributions to the nation's history since Tudor times. The gallery's holdings are presented chronologically, beginning with the Tudors and moving on through the 17th, 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. The gallery's arrangement illustrates different themes in British history, with maps and other period objects being used to complement the pictures.

      Although the criterion for inclusion has always been the celebrity of the subject rather than the merit of the artist, many superb works of art are in the collection. Among the numerous portraits of English monarchs are one by Hans Holbein the Younger (Holbein, Hans, the Younger) of Henry VIII with his father (c. 1537) and a fine portrait of Elizabeth I (c. 1575). Other famous works include Peter Paul Rubens (Rubens, Peter Paul)'s portrait of Thomas Howard, 2nd earl of Arundel (1629), Sir Isaac Newton by Sir Godfrey Kneller (Kneller, Sir Godfrey, Baronet) (1702), and Warren Hastings by Sir Joshua Reynolds (Reynolds, Sir Joshua) (1766–68). Self-portraits include ones by Reynolds (c. 1747), Thomas Gainsborough (Gainsborough, Thomas) (c. 1759), and George Stubbs (Stubbs, George) (1781).

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