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Home | History | The National Portrait Gallery

The National Portrait Gallery

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Established in 1856, the National Portrait Gallery is the most extensive collection of portrait in the world.

The National Portrait Gallery The National Portrait GalleryInterestingly, the Gallery’s main focus was  on history rather than art, which ultimately meant that the status of the sitter was considered more important than the quality of the portrait. This criterion is still being applied today when deciding which works enter the Gallery’s collection.

However, nowadays, the Gallery also aims at promotion of the genre of portraiture as an invaluable source of ‘the appreciation and understanding of the men and women who have made and are making British history and culture’ Sandy Nairne. Through the extensive programme of exhibition, research and publishing the gallery stimulates study of portraiture in all media and addresses various questions of identity, biography and fame within the framework of visual representation.

Since 1896 the National Portrait Gallery has occupied the site just off Trafalgar Square, adjoining the National Gallery. (source of information: National Portrait Gallery website).

Russian links. The main focus of the National Portrait Gallery is given to the portraits of British people, however its collection holds some important funds connected to Russian culture. Such is the collection of photographic portraits by the 20th century pioneering photographer Ida Kar (1908-1974). Born in Tambov in an Armenian family, the artistic quality of Ida Kar’s work was instrumental in encouraging the acceptance of photography as a fine art. During her artistic career she created portraits of the prominent contemporary artists and writers, political activists and members of 1950s and 1960s Bohemian London society. She also documented life in Cuba, Germany, Russia and Armenia. In 1960 she became the first photographer to be honoured with a major retrospective in London, at the Whitechapel Art Gallery. The National Portrait Gallery owns the photographer’s archive which includes over 800 of Kar’s vintage prints and 10,000 negatives. In March – June 2011 the National Portrait Gallery ran the exhibition Ida Kar: Bohemian Photographer, 1908-74. Some of Ida Kar’s work can be accessed through the National portrait Gallery on-line catalogue at: