Located in Saint Martins Place, London just off of Trafalgar Square, The National Portrait Gallery is home to the largest portrait collection of British influential men and women, both past and present, that have helped make British culture and history, from Tudor Courts to the present day.

The portraits are housed in a wide range of styled and beautifully crafted frames, that add to the beauty of each piece hung on its walls.

History Of The Gallery

The National Portrait Gallery was founded in 1856 by Philip Henry Stanhope, Thomas Babington Macauley and Thomas Carlyle.  These three founders are commemorated with busts that are over the main entrance of the gallery.

The idea of the gallery first arose in 1846, when Philip Henry Stanhope, who was then a member of parliament proposed the idea of a gallery focussed solely on portraits of British influential people, in 1856 after his third attempt, the proposal was accepted and under Queen Victoria’s approval the sum of £2000 was set aside to establish the gallery.

The first portrait to be donated to the gallery and hung was the Chandos portrait which was donated by Lord Ellesmere.

The Chandos Portrait

The most famous portrait and frame in the gallery is the portrait of the great William Shakespeare, known as the Chandos Painting after a previous owner.

It is to date and knowledge the only portrait of William Shakespeare that was painted from life by what we believe the artist John Taylor, although this has never been confirmed.  This was the first painting that the national portrait gallery acquired in 1856.

The portrait is currently housed in a tortoiseshell frame which was custom made solely for this piece back in 1983  by John Davis.  Davis modified and old frame that housed the portrait, and although the frame is not a period piece it certainly enhances the scale of the portrait and colour of the image in its current state of condition.

Although there is not a full of history of the frames in which this piece was originally housed in, we do know that it arrived at the gallery in 1856 housed in what is known as a Maratta Frame, usually a gold guilded frame made by the Carlo Maratta.  One of these frames recently went up for sale at auction with an estimate of £1000 – £2500.

Must See Famous Pieces On Display

There are a total of 1400 portraits on display within the National Portrait gallery, each one housed in its own unique and beautiful frame that helps bring the painting to life.  Behind each portrait is a unique and fascinating story which gives you an insight into the influential individual who was painted.

Here is a list of the top must see portraits when visiting the gallery:

  • Queen Elizabeth I – By unknown continental artist 1575
  • Kelly Holmes – By Craig Wylie 2012
  • Lord Byron Replica – By Thomas Phillips 1835
  • Anne Boleyn – By unknown english artist 1533-1536

  • Sir Anthony Van Dyck – By Sir Anthony Van Dyck 1640
  • Amy Winehouse – By Marlene Dumas 2011
  • Churchill – By Graham Sutherland 1954
  • Germaine Greer – By Paula Rego 1995

These are just a few of many fabulous portraits on display at the national portrait gallery and the many stunning frames from history to the present day that house them.

Images supplied by the National Portrait Gallery