British portraits records

The National Portrait Gallery’s Heinz Archive and Library holds over 1 million records of British portraits held in public and private collections worldwide. The Gallery began recording portraits from its foundation in 1856 and the present filing systems date back to the beginning of the 20th century.  
The Archive and Library continues to record and track British portraits by scanning sales catalogues from the major auction houses, indexing books and periodicals that come into the library, retaining correspondence to the Gallery concerning portraits, receiving information from surveys such as the Kent Portrait Survey and Church Monuments Record and acquiring photographic reproductions of portraits.  Approximately 15,000 new records are added every year.

In addition to recording the existence of portraits and tracking their whereabouts, these resources can be used to identify further sources of information about specific portraits. They include:

  • sitter boxes (including auction catalogue illustrations, engravings, photographs, and other reproductions of portraits) arranged alphabetically by name of sitter
  • artist boxes (including auction catalogue illustrations, engravings, photographs, and other reproductions of portraits), divided by medium, subdivided into quarter-century and arranged alphabetically by name of artist
  • costume boxes containing images of portraits arranged chronologically by decade
  • ‘types’ boxes arranged by type of portrait, including professions (e.g. legal, military, political) and subject s (e.g. allegorical, children, family groups)
  • an index of British portraits, arranged alphabetically by sitter name, containing references to portraits either illustrated or recorded in publications held by the Library or available elsewhere.

These materials are kept on open access in the Archive and Library’s Public Study Room and are available for general reference.

At the present time these records are not held in a database although the Gallery is exploring ways to automate some of its recording activities and develop a Portrait Finder that will provide online access to these and cross-collection search capability of other web-based resources.

Heinz Archive and Library opening hours
Tuesday-Friday, 10:00-17:00
by appointment only:
020 7321 6617 (Type Talk: 18001)
fax: 020 7306 0056

National Portrait Gallery
St Martin's Place
London WC2H 0HE