Archive Collection Development Policy

1.0 Policy statement

1.1 The National Portrait Gallery (NPG) Archive Collection Development Policy sets out how the Gallery collects archives, collecting priorities and policies, and how deaccessioning and disposal from the Archive is managed. The policy applies to paper, analogue and digital records.

1.2 The policy is supported by the Archive and Library department annual plan, which outlines how the policy will be met.

1.3 The Collection Development Policy is intended as a public document for the information of Government; Museum staff and other interested parties such as museums and grant-giving and funding bodies.

2.0 Role of the Archive

2.1 The purpose of the NPG Archive is to preserve and make available, both internally to staff and externally to members of the public, archival material (records selected for permanent preservation as part of the Gallery's corporate memory, and as a resource for research[1]). This upholds the following aims:

  • To ensure that the Gallery meets its statutory record keeping requirements as a Non-Departmental Government Body and Nominated Place of Deposit for public records by capturing and managing authentic and reliable records to demonstrate evidence, accountability and information about its decisions, activities and collections.
  • To support the Gallery’s core objectives to promote appreciation and understanding of portraiture in all media, and of the men and women who have made and are making British history and culture.

3.0 Collecting remit and overview of current collections

3.1 Gallery Records

3.1.1 The Gallery maintains an archive of records created and received in the course of its everyday business activities, which it calls Gallery Records. The Archive works in close cooperation with departments and depositors to ensure the systematic transfer of official records to its custody. Workflows are in place to acquire material from internal sources on an ongoing basis, in accordance with the Gallery’s Archives and Records Management Policy.

3.1.2 The Archivist may agree the transfer of new record series to the Archive: material which has not historically been added to Gallery Records, or which documents a new activity, decision or event of sufficient significance to warrant inclusion in the official record of the Gallery’s history.

3.1.3 Occasionally material belonging to the Gallery Records may be collected from external sources; this may be records of a former member of staff for example. When this occurs the same procedures as acquisition for Collected Archives (outlined below) are followed.

3.2 Collected Archives

3.2.1 The Gallery has historically, on occasion, acquired archival material from external sources. This policy statement clarifies, in particular, the Archive’s position with regard to the acquisition of such material, which it calls Collected Archives. With regard to material that is not sourced internally and which is not intended for inclusion within the institutional archive of Gallery records the Archive seeks to acquire only archival material that will support research into British portraiture, i.e.

  • Records created by portrait artists working in any media and/or their studios which document or provide insight to their career and creative processes
  • Records created by key art historians in the field of British portraiture
  • Records relating to significant British portrait collections

4.0 Priorities for future collecting

4.1 The National Portrait Gallery Archives are keen to strengthen its Gallery Record holdings in the area of portraits commissioned by the Gallery.

4.2 Gaps in the Collected Archives to be prioritised to be filled are the working papers of 20th and 21st century British portrait artists.

5.0 Demarcation of collecting remit

5.1 The Archive does not seek to compete for material with other repositories. Given its specific collecting remit (records documenting the institutional history of the Gallery and archives relating to British portraiture) it is unlikely that conflict will frequently arise. However, in any such instance, the Archive will work with interested parties to ensure that archives are placed in the most appropriate home.

5.2 Specific reference is made to the Royal Academy of Arts and Tate.

5.3 If it is decided not to accept an offered collection then Archive staff will advise the donor on other possible archives, which may be a more suitable home for the records.

6.0 Record formats collected

6.1 The National Portrait Gallery Archive collects records in paper, digital and analogue format.

7.0 Selection Procedures and responsibility

7.1 Responsibility for deciding whether to acquire material lies with the Archivist and the Senior Archive and Library Manager. Advice and recommendations may be sought from Gallery colleagues when appropriate.

8.0 Methods and process of acquisition

8.1 The Archive will acquire archives by gift, bequest or transfer and where possible, by purchase. As the Archive has no acquisitions budget, it ordinarily accepts donations only. Internal transfers to the archive are made through established Gallery record keeping procedures.

8.2 Long term loans are not accepted.

8.3 In the past copies of records have been acquired for the Collected Archives when the original was held in private hands. This will only occur in the future if it is judged that the original record is unlikely to be available for acquisition by the NPG Archives or by another archive repository; that the material is of high interest to researchers and if the owner agrees the copy can be made accessible.

9.0 Terms & conditions associated with acquisitions

9.1 To ensure the rights of the donor, the Gallery and to protect the integrity of archival deposits, the Archive will apply the following when considering any potential acquisition:

  • In line with the Gallery’s Due Diligence Policy archival material will not be accepted without clear and valid title of ownership. The Senior Archive & Library Manager must be satisfied that the donor has the requisite authority or title to transfer material.
  • Archival material will not be accepted without a completed acquisition agreement form, detailing specific terms of agreement for donation. The Archive will not accept donations without the Senior Archive & Library Manager and the Archivist having been party to the agreement.
  • Where there is an on-going relationship with a donor involving the transfer of more archives at a later date, the manner and timing of these transfers will be defined in the acquisition agreement form signed at the time of the first deposit.
  • Only records which, in the judgement of the Archivist, are of sufficient quality for permanent preservation will be accepted. With specific regard to Collected Archives, material which is judged to not meet the collecting policy, be ephemeral or duplicate will be disposed of or returned according to the agreement signed in advance with the donor.
  • The Archive will not accept collections wholly or largely comprised of photocopies or facsimiles of original material.
  • The Archive will accept donations which include small amounts of material which require restricted access conditions, but archive collections wholly or largely comprised of material requiring restricted access for a lengthy period of time will not be accepted (with the exception of some extraordinary Gallery Records, with the explicit agreement of the Archivist).
  • The Archive will not seek to acquire published material, as opposed to original archive material, although small amounts of published material will be accepted where part of a larger archive. Published material with a significant provenance, extensive annotations or other unique features contributing to original research may also be accepted, in consultation with the Gallery’s Librarian.
  • The Archive may acquire artefacts or works of art where they are a small part of a larger archive collection, or where they have a special significance. Where this is not the case, donors offering artefacts or works of art will ordinarily be directed to the Gallery’s Acquisitions and Displays Registrar, in accordance with the Gallery’s Collections Development Policy.
  • The Archive will not accept records which require skills or equipment beyond the department’s resources to preserve or make accessible. The availability of appropriate storage facilities and suitable physical condition of the records, i.e. the likelihood of being able to conserve them for a reasonable period of time, must be established prior to acquisition of any archival material.
  • The Gallery asks for the copyright of Collected Archives to be assigned to it as part of the acquisition process. It should be possible to obtain an assignment of copyright or a licence of reproduction. If the copyright owner will not agree then the acquisition decision process should take this into account. If the owner of the material is not the copyright holder then attempts should be made to trace the copyright owner. It should be remembered however that it is unlikely there will be one copyright holder for the whole archive.
  • Before archives in electronic or audio visual formats can be accepted, it will be necessary to establish with the donor the available options for dealing with such media, including issues relating to vulnerability of media and the potential for long-term preservation and provision of access to the material. If the Archive cannot satisfactorily establish these terms prior to deposit, the Archive will not accept material and may instead direct the donors to suitable specialist repositories.

10.0 Donating archives to the Gallery

10.1 Please contact the Senior Archive & Library Manager or the Archivist at the National Portrait Gallery, St Martin’s Place, London, WC2H 0HE, or email [email protected] or telephone +44 (0)20 7321 6617 to enquire about donating archives to the Gallery.

11.0 Deaccessioning and Disposal

11.1 The NPG Archives reserves the right to de-accession and dispose of archive material under the following circumstances: material does not meet the archive collecting criteria; duplicates other holdings or is non archival; is of low information and evidential value; is badly damaged or infested and is not possible to conserve or treat.

11.2 Material identified as being suitable for de-accessioning will be offered to be returned to donors; transferred to the National Portrait Gallery Library or Reference Collection, or transferred to another archive repository. Only in exceptional circumstances will material be destroyed.

11.3 The NPG Archive will not dispose by sale of any documents in the collection.

11.4 Further information and guidance on de-accessioning can be found in the De-accessioning and Disposal procedure.


This policy will be reviewed every five years.

July 2021

[1] National Portrait Gallery ‘Archives & Records Management Policy’ (2020). Available at: Accessed 15/04/2021.