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National Portrait Gallery
National Portrait Gallery Review
Tucked around the corner from the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery was founded in 1856 with a single aim: to gather together portraits of famous (and infamous) British men and women. More than 150 years and 160,000 portraits later, it is an essential stop for all history and literature buffs. The spacious galleries make it a pleasant place to visit, and you can choose to take in a little or a lot. Need to rest those legs? Then use the Portrait Explorer in the Digital Space on the ground-floor mezzanine for interactive, computer-aided exploration of the gallery's extensive collection. If you visit with little ones, ask at the desk about the excellent Family Trails, which make exploring the galleries with children much more fun. On the top floor, the Portrait Restaurant (check website for details) will delight skyline aficionados. The restaurant vista will reveal stately London at its finest: a panoramic view of Nelson's Column and the backdrop along Whitehall to the Houses of Parliament.
Galleries are arranged clearly and chronologically, from Tudor times to contemporary Britain. In the Tudor Gallery—a modern update on a Tudor long hall—is a Holbein cartoon of Henry VIII. Joshua Reynolds's self-portrait hangs in the refurbished 17th-century rooms. Portraits of notables, including Shakespeare, the Brontë sisters, Jane Austen, and the Queen are always on display. Other faces are more obscure because the portraits outlasted their sitters' fame—not so surprising when the portraitists are such greats as Reynolds, Gainsborough, Lawrence, and Hockney. Look for the four Andy Warhol Queen Elizabeth II silkscreens from 1985 and Maggi Hambling's surreal self-portrait. Contemporary portraits range from the iconic (Julian with T-shirt—an LCD screen on a continuous loop—by Julian Opie) to the creepy (Marc Quinn's Self, a realization of the artist's head in frozen blood) and the eccentric (Tim Noble's ghoulish Head of Isabella Blow). Temporary exhibitions can be explored in the ground-floor Wolfson and Porter galleries.
- Address: St. Martin's Pl., Westminster, London, WC2H 0HE | Map It
- Phone: 020/7312–2463; 020/730–0555 recorded switchboard information
- Cost: Free; charge for special exhibitions; audiovisual guide £3
- Hours: Mon.–Wed. and weekends 10–6, Thurs. and Fri. 10–9; last admission 1 hr before closing
- Website: www.npg.org.uk
- Tube: Charing Cross, Leicester Sq.
- Location: Westminster and Royal London
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