Life, Death and Memory

17 April 2017 - 16 March 2018

Room 16


John Evelyn
by Robert Walker
1648-circa 1656
NPG 6179

Portraiture has an inextricable relationship with the passing of time and mortality. Portraits usually reflect a particular moment in a person’s life. That person will inevitably change, get older and eventually die but the portrait endures. This display draws together historic and contemporary works from the Collection that engage with this complex, sometimes troubling, relationship. There is a long tradition of portraits that explicitly anticipate death, including the seventeenth-century diarist John Evelyn shown clutching a skull. Artists have frequently explored their mortality in self-portraits. A recent example is Tracey Emin’s Death Mask, a bronze cast of the artist’s head. This newly-acquired sculpture blurs the distinctions between life and death, art and identity.

Life, death and memory display
Life, death and memory display

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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