National Portrait Gallery

National Portrait Gallery information

London , England
St Martin's Pl
Getting there
Tube: Charing Cross, Leicester Sq
More information
Opening hours
10am-6pm Sat-Wed, to 9pm Thu & Fri
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What makes the National Portrait Gallery so compelling is its familiarity; in many cases you’ll have heard of the subject (royals, scientists, politicians, celebrities) or the artist (Andy Warhol, Annie Leibovitz, Sam Taylor-Wood). Highlights include the famous ‘Chandos portrait’ of William Shakespeare, the first artwork the gallery acquired (in 1856) and believed to be the only likeness made during the playwright’s lifetime, and a touching sketch of novelist Jane Austen by her sister.

A further highlight is the ‘Ditchley’ portrait of Queen Elizabeth I displaying her might by standing on a map of England. The collection is organised chronologically (starting with the early Tudors on the 2nd floor), and then by theme. The 1st-floor portraits illustrate the rise and fall of the British Empire through the Victorian era and the 20th century. Don’t miss the high-kitsch statue of Victoria and Albert in Anglo-Saxon dress in room 21. The ground floor is dedicated to modern figures, using a variety of media (sculpture, photography, video etc). Among the most popular are the iconic Blur portraits by Julian Opie and Sam Taylor-Wood’s David , a (low-res by today's standards) video-portrait of David Beckham asleep after football training. Don't miss Self by Mark Quinn, a frozen, refrigerated sculpture of the artist's head, made from 4.5l of his own blood and recast every five years. The excellent audioguide (£3) highlights 200 portraits and allows you to hear the voices of some of the subjects. The Portrait restaurant has superb views towards Westminster and does wonderful food.