Museum Mix: Perusing London's National Portrait Gallery

The National Portrait Gallery in London offers its visitors the history of England through the likenesses of its people. Celebrating its 160th anniversary this year, the National Portrait Gallery presents an impressive compendium of portraits unrivaled by the capital city's other world-renowned art institutions.

The National Portrait Gallery was the brainchild of the 5th Earl of Stanhope, Phillip Henry, who wanted to assist in the creation of an art institution that honored both the art and heritage of the English population. After prolonged efforts, Stanhope finally received Queen Victoria's blessing in 1856 along with £2000 of seed money (roughly $250,000 in today's dollars). As both its popularity and its collection grew, the National Portrait Gallery eventually moved into a more permanent home in 1896 very near to another art landmark of London, the National Gallery.


Attributed to John Taylor, William Shakespeare (Chandos Portrait), c. 1600s

Featured among their holdings are the visages of some of England's most notable figures. For example, the celebrated (and often contested) oil-on-canvas portrait of William Shakespeare, also known as the "Chandos Portrait," (above) hangs on its walls. Charcoal works also get their due. Intermixed with these paintings is a remarkable array of charcoal portraits of some of England's most cherished figures, from writer Herbert George (HG) Wells to Austrian-turned-Englishman and prominent art historian Ernst Gombrich. As a result, visitors to the National Portrait Gallery can both walk through British history while admiring the finessed technique of exquisite charcoal works.

Museum Mix

William Hogarth, 1758


Angelica Kauffman, 1770-1775


Today, the National Portrait Gallery boasts a collection of hundreds of thousands of works, rivaling its National Gallery neighbor for prominence near London's bustling Trafalgar Square. It also boasts three auxiliary exhibitions locations across the United Kingdom. What keeps the institution thriving is a passion for the carefully conjured portrait, which we at Nitram Charcoal couldn't support more.

Museum Mix

R.B. Kitaj, Sir Ernst HaWillins Josef Gombrich, 1986. Pastel and charcoal. 676 mm by 578 mm.


Anonymous, Primrose Hill School, 1893. Charcoal and white chalk on paper. 551 mm by 699 mm.


For more on the National Portrait Gallery, please visit their website. Have you had a chance to take in their collection? What portrait was your favorite? Save

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