Saturday, June 13, 2020

National Portrait Gallery not reopening - until 2023

The National Portrait Gallery is now closed for three years - until at least Spring 2023.

However there is some GOOD NEWS - SEE BELOW! - concerning:
  • Inspiring People Project
  • Collaborations with regional museums and galleries on future displays of key works
  • The Really Good News re.
    • David Hockney exhibition
    • BP Portrait Award

No more portraits on view at NPG Gallery for 3 years

It was always intended that the Gallery would close for its ambitious rebuilding project at the end of June 2020. So the announcement yesterday that the Gallery will not now be reopening for the rest of June came as no surprised - but means no more portraits for three years!

My concern right now is how  the pandemic will affect the length of the building project. 
  • It might start on time - and it may not. 
  • It might take the original planned length of time - but it may not 
In addition, my career experience (of major building projects taking three years) is that if it's a big project on a major site with major access issues then the project very often slips and is often not finished by the target date. That's not me being negative - that's just me relaying my experience of such projects - and I've known a few!  (I'm also wondering whether the cut through from Cass Arts to the back of the National Gallery will remain open for the duration)

So be aware and prepare for the fact it MAY be more than three years before we can visit the National Portrait Gallery again

Inspiring People Project 

When we do we'll be entering via a different entrance - located on the north side of the building and looking across a more spacious area and up Charing Cross Road.

The new entrance looking north up Charing Cross Road

direction of approach to new entrance to the National Portrait Gallery

You can see more about the building project on the NPG website - see Inspiring People. It will be biggest ever development since the building in St Martin’s Place opened in 1896.

The project provides for:
  • creating a more welcoming and accessible visitor entrance and public forecourt 
  • the creation of a new public spaces
  • a comprehensive re-display of the Gallery’s Collection from the Tudors to now
  • reopening the East Wing to the public
  • developing a much-improved Learning Centre.
The Collection will continue to be on view - just not at the NPG. Plus it will remain accessible via the website
“During our closure, we will continue to find ways to make our Collection available to as many people as possible, creating new and engaging content online, including a new film of our galleries, and sharing works across the UK through an innovative programme of partnerships and collaborations. We look forward to staying connected with all our audiences throughout the redevelopment period through these and to welcoming them back to the transformed Gallery in London in 2023.”Dr Nicholas Cullinan, Director, National Portrait Gallery London
Key works from the Gallery’s Collection will remain on public display through a series of nationwide collaborations including partnerships with....


  • The National Trust, 
  • The National Gallery, 
  • Royal Museums Greenwich, 


  • the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, 


  • Coventry City of Culture (Herbert Art Gallery & Museum),
  • Wolverhampton Art Gallery,
  • Derby Museum and Art Gallery,
  • Aston Hall in Birmingham.


  • Museums Liverpool, 
  • the Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle, 
  • York Art Gallery, 
  • The Yorkshire Museum

South West

  • the Holburne Museum, Bath
Cecil Beaton’s Bright Young Things will also tour in the UK, with dates to be confirmed when possible.

The Heinz Archive and Library is also currently closed due to the Coronavirus Pandemic, but it will re-open once it is safe to do so and will remain open throughout the building project. 
  • Accessible by appointment to visitors who are interested in any aspect of British portraiture or the history of the Gallery. 
  • Find out more at

The Really Good News!

David Hockney: Drawing from Life

David Hockney by David Hockney

The critically acclaimed David Hockney: Drawing from Life exhibition is definitely going to be restaged when the Gallery re-opens. So, if you didn't get to see it after it opened at the end of February, there's no need to worry. It will still be there when you come back to the new revitalised National Portrait Gallery.

Yippee - I've seen it at the press view and it was brilliant - but wanted to go back for another view but ended up being too frightened to use public transport before the NPG - and the exhibition - was shut down due to the Pandemic.

an older Celia Birtwell by David Hockney

a younger Celia Birtwell by David Hockney - using coloured pencils

Q. Will the BP Portrait Award and Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize still run?

For those concerned about the future of the two major competitions run at the Gallery, the news is as follows...
Now closure has been confirmed the Gallery is considering options for the annual portrait competitions. Please sign up to our e-newsletter for updates.
My prediction is they will 
  • rethink how the portrait award competition works
  • probably make it digital only (re London) for the next three years - with actual exhibitions in Scotland and the regions
  • seek a new sponsor for the Portrait Award.
After all
  • it had a different sponsor (John Player Tobacco!!) before BP. 
  • the BP’s Director of Arts and Culture - who was always on the Panel of Judges - was dropped for the selection in 2020.
Hopefully in future ethical considerations will also be factored into the choice of an appropriate sponsor - as indeed they should have been already.

See the Culture Unstained post 7 things you should know about the BP Portrait Award (2018) by the not-for-profit workers co-operative which aims to end fossil fuel sponsorship of culture. It may seem a long time ago now - but the Climate Change activists and their demonstrations are very likely to start up again in the future.

Personally I'd just love to:
  • see the Portrait Award Exhibition return to a proper sized Gallery for the most popular exhibition every single year (i.e. NOT the small one it was moved to - which reduced both number of portraits hung and their overall size)
  • hear the speeches at the BP Awards ceremony actually focus on portraiture and not be related to any sort of defence of the sponsor's actions given the steady criticism of the sponsor (however worthy they might be).
It's time to move on - in more ways than one.  Let's hope the sponsorship will get a clean up and makeover as well as the NPG!

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