Collections Information and Access Policy
Statement of Authority
1.1 The aim of the National Portrait Gallery, London, founded in 1856, is ‘to promote through the medium of portraits the appreciation and understanding of the men and women who have made and are making British history and culture, and ... to promote the appreciation and understanding of portraiture in all media’. The Gallery holds the most extensive collection of portraits in the world. The Collection is displayed in London and in a number of locations around the United Kingdom, including several houses managed by the National Trust.
1.2 Like other national museums, the Gallery is supported both by government and increasingly by a large number of individuals, companies, trusts and foundations, as well as by the receipts from ticketed exhibitions, shops, catering and events.
1.3 The Gallery aims to bring history to life through its extensive display, exhibition, research, learning, outreach, publishing and digital programmes. These allow us to stimulate debate and to address questions of biography, diversity and fame which lie at the heart of issues of identity and achievement.
1.4 The Gallery aims to be the foremost centre for the study of and research into portraiture, as well as making its work and activities of interest to as wide a range of visitors as possible.
1.5 The collections management framework at the Gallery plays a central role in helping the institution achieve its core aims and objectives, as stated in the Gallery’s Corporate Plan 2017-27:
- To extend and broaden the range of audiences for the National Portrait Gallery and its work through participation and learning activity, a higher national and public profile, and an effective communication strategy.
- To develop the Collection, creating opportunities for acquisition and commission, while improving its care and conservation.
- To increase the understanding of and engagement with the Collection and the art of portraiture through outstanding interpretation, research, exhibitions and displays, learning publishing, regional and digital programmes.
- To make the Gallery a national hub for sharing ideas and expertise about portraiture with a dynamic centre for learning in London and a skills sharing network across the country.
- To create a digital presence which connects, inspires and engages audiences where digital is not seen as the remit of a single department to one where all teams have digital activity as a core part of their working strategy.
- To maximize the financial resources available through both public and private sector support, trading and licensing and through the effective management of the Gallery’s assets and resources.
- To develop staff as an essential resource through the extension of staff diversity, training, development and learning programmes, upgraded internships, work experience and a volunteer programme.
- To physically open up the Gallery to make the Collection and programme more visible, accessible and welcoming and to bring the buildings, technical and managerial infrastructure of the Gallery to the highest standards, including processes, systems, Collection storage and staff accommodation.
1.6 The aim of this policy is to provide a clear summary of the collections information and access activities in the Gallery whilst on display, in storage and on loan to its regional partners or other borrowing institutions.
2. Scope and responsibilities
2.1 This Policy covers those objects in the Primary Collection, as well as those in the Reference Archive and Photographic Collections, and forms part of the National Portrait Gallery’s Collections Management framework which consists of:
- this Collections Information and Access Policy
- Collections Care and Conservation Policy
- Collections Development Policy
2.2 This is in compliance with the published Accreditation Guidance provided by Arts Council England, the delivery body for Accreditation in the United Kingdom.
2.3 The main Library and Archive collections are covered by the Archive Service Accreditation Standard, managed by The National Archives.
2.4 This policy operates alongside the following National Portrait Gallery Policies and Strategies:
- Exhibitions and Displays Policy
- Loans Out Policy
- Collections and Exhibitions Due Diligence Policy
- Archives and Records Management Policy
- Security Policy
2.5 The Director has overall responsibility for ensuring that the Collections are made available and are accessible.
2.6 The Chief Curator is responsible for maintaining a strategic overview of the information and interpretation provided in relation to the Collections.
2.7 The Executive Director of Programmes and Partnerships is responsible for maintaining a strategic overview of how Collections are made available and accessible.
2.8 The Head of Collections Services is responsible for maintaining a strategic overview of how the Collections documentation is provided and maintained.
2.9 The Head of Exhibitions is responsible for maintaining a strategic overview of how the Collections are made available through the Exhibition programmes.
2.10 The Head of Digital is responsible for maintaining a strategic overview of how information relating to the Collections is accessed digitally, within the Gallery and online.
2.11 The Head of Information Technology is responsible for maintaining a strategic overview of how the information relating to the Collections is stored and maintained.
2.12 The Senior Archive and Library Manager is responsible for maintaining a strategic overview of how Library, Archive and Reference collections documentation is provided, maintained and made available.
2.13 Individual Curators are responsible for providing information in relation to their particular period.
2.14 The Collections Registrar is responsible for providing the relevant documentation and administrative support to ensure the Gallery adheres to recognised Collections Management Standards.
2.15 The Loans Registrar is responsible for providing the relevant documentation and administrative support to ensure the Gallery adheres to recognised Collections Management Standards when loaning works out.
2.16 The Intellectual Property Officer is responsible for providing training to the relevant departments to aid cataloguing and rights clearance for short and long term loans and for checking the accuracy of any copyright agreements the gallery enters into the third parties.
3.1 The Primary Collection includes both physical and digital collection items. Information about the collections and associated intellectual property is key to enabling access to the collections. The Gallery is committed to creating and maintaining good quality and up to date information about all its Collection works, which conforms to the appropriate national and international standards.
3.2 The Gallery enables access to all items for which the Gallery is legally responsible: Collection works, loans to the Gallery, works on deposit. Documentation is easily available for inspection by the Gallery’s auditors.
3.3 The Gallery is committed to ensuring that the Collections Management Database (Mimsy) is the primary tool for creating and managing Collections information and items for which the Gallery is legally responsible. However it should be noted that the Copyright Database (Capture) is the authority for all rights information regarding the Gallery’s Collections as this cannot be recorded on Mimsy. Exhibitions currently use Filemaker Pro to manage works on loan for Gallery exhibitions.
3.4 All staff responsible for recording Collections documentation receive training in the relevant data standards and appropriate Collections Management Database, including up to date copyright training to enable the accurate input and retrieval of collections information. All data is traceable through an audit trail as to who created or edited it. The Digital team regularly review functionality and develop or commission customisations to suit Gallery needs. There is an Escrow agreement in place for the safeguarding of our collection information and ensuring continuity of service. The security and integrity of digital assets and the Collections Management Database, including back up procedures and retention, are set out in the Gallery’s Archives and Records Management and Information Security policies.
3.5 The Gallery is committed to regular reviews of the Collections Management Database to ensure it is fit for purpose and that Collection information is appropriately safeguarded against potential future obsolescence of the systems. The Heads of Digital and Collections Services shall jointly conduct such reviews.
3.6 All new offers for the Primary Collection are logged and managed by the Collections Registrar. The individual Curators as appropriate log and manage all new offers for the Reference Archive and Photographic Collections. An acknowledgement is sent to offerers by the relevant member of staff. Offerers are informed at the outset of timescales and kept informed on progress throughout the process. Offer files for the Primary Collection are prepared by the Collections Registrar using checklists to ensure that all the relevant documents are in place; to assist the Curators in the decision making process and that in the longer term the relevant documentation is passed to the Archives for storage in accordance with the Gallery’s retention schedule. Individual curators manage documentation for the Reference Archive and Photographic Collections.
3.7 Primary Collection acquisitions are tracked on the Offers tracking spreadsheet and Acquisitions Tracking spreadsheet by the Collections Registrar . All offers which are successful and become part of the Gallery’s Collection are entered onto Mimsy. Accession registers are maintained according to Spectrum standards; past registers are stored in an access controlled area in the Archives and the current register in a secure electronic file.
3.8 Unsuccessful offers are filed and retained according to the Gallery’s retention schedule.
3.9 The Gallery’s aim is to introduce digital signatures for acquisitions and to move to digital files where possible.
3.10 The history of each collection work and a record of any activities associated with it must be kept in the file which is opened as soon as the Gallery receives note of a potential acquisition, and all relevant paperwork generated and received during the acquisition process is filed within it. A catalogue record adhering to agreed Gallery data standards is created as soon as possible after the work has been accepted by the Curatorial Acquisitions Meeting.
3.11 Once an item is formally acquired, the offers file becomes a Registered Packet for Primary Collection objects, an X packet for Photographs Collection objects or D packet for Reference Collection objects. The Collections Registrar and individual Cataloguers are responsible for the catalogue record of each Primary Collection work in the appropriate Collections Management Database. Individual curators are responsible for those in the Reference Archive and Photographic Collections.
3.12 The Intellectual Property Officer is responsible for inputting rights information into the Copyright Database and checking the accuracy of Mimsy records. The image is stored on the Gallery’s digital asset management system (Portfolio).
Location Control and Audit
3.13 The Collections Management Database is the Gallery’s primary inventory system. The Collections Registrar is responsible for the inventory level record of each Primary Collection item. The individual Curators manage inventory level records for the Reference Archive and Photographic Collections.
3.14 All records are monitored by the Digital Collections Manager to ensure data compliance and security standards are in place.
3.15 The inventory level record contains the legal status and an accurate and up to date location for each work that the Gallery is legally responsible for. Entry and exit documentation is maintained for all Collection works, or group of works, and other items that the Gallery is legally responsible for, recording the source of the work, the terms of receipt and the location of the work. No movement record is complete until it is recorded on the Collections Database System.
3.16 The Heritage Protection Manager, in collaboration with the Head of Collections Services, is responsible for carrying out spot checks and audits to verify the physical presence of works in locations as recorded on the appropriate Collections Management Database. Specified areas of the collections are systematically audited at intervals and remedial action taken by the Collections Registrar.
4. Access to physical objects in the Gallery’s Collections
4.1 The Gallery is an institution dedicated to acknowledging significant achievement across all ages and of all kinds. The determination to widen interest in portraiture is matched by the recognition that broadening interest in all aspects of the Gallery’s work, and reaching out to all parts of society, are part of the core mission of the organisation. Therefore, the Gallery is committed to offering the widest and most appropriate forms of access to its collections, expertise, facilities and services. The Gallery is actively working to overcome any physical, intellectual, cultural, attitudinal, digital and financial barriers, through integrating equality and diversity into all our work.
4.2 The Gallery promotes free access to its Collection and collections information, through some exhibitions and displays, loans, our National Programme and regional partners, Learning and Access programme, publications, website and via our Archive and Library study room, in order to promote appreciation and understanding of portraiture in all media. The Gallery presents a broad range of exhibitions and displays, which reflect many cultures and artistic practices. The Gallery defines key target audiences and develops communications and interpretation, informed by evaluation, to suit these audiences. The Gallery delivers a wide range of learning programmes which are developed to suit different levels of knowledge, cultural and educational backgrounds, interests and learning styles. The Gallery works with a rich mix of community partners to bring the Collection to new audiences across the UK.
4.3 The Gallery has a cross-departmental Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Steering Group which is responsible for improving equality in all aspects of the Gallery’s services and ensures we meet legal requirements and regulations. It works to establish models of good practice and achieve the highest possible standards. The Gallery also runs a Youth Forum, group of young people aged 14 – 21 who work with the Gallery to give a fresh perspective on its Collections and exhibitions. The Gallery will manage the competing demands of access and long term collection care in accordance with the Collections Care and Conservation Policy.
4.4 Works that are not on display can be viewed in the Public Study Room of the Archive & Library or the Gallery’s off-site store by making an appointment in advance. Visitors are required to fill in an Access Agreement Form; inspection and handling guidance is provided, and access is supervised at all times.
4.5 Information about works on display in galleries is provided through labels, wall texts and other contextual and complementary information. The Gallery aims to make this information as accessible as possible. For example, materials such as Braille, large print and family trails are available onsite and a number of online resources, such as audio description of portraits and a series of descriptive and subtitled films, are available online. We endeavour to ensure that all information and interactive resources, Audio Visual Guides and interactive displays are accessible to all visitors.
Temporary Exhibitions and Displays
4.6 Temporary exhibitions and displays allow works not normally on display in the galleries to be shown to the public. This also allows works to be displayed in different contexts and alongside works borrowed from other collections and lenders. It also offers the opportunity for the Gallery to showcase new academic research.
5. Reference Collections
5.1 In addition to the Gallery’s Primary Collection of portraits, it also holds two reference collections: one of photographic portraits and the other containing prints and drawings (plus some portraits in other media). The reference collections are supplementary and contextual to the Primary Collection. They allow the Gallery to collect beyond the acquisition criteria for the Primary Collection, and are drawn upon for display purposes as well as supporting learning activities and research into portraiture at the Gallery.
6. Information Services and Enquiries
6.1 The Gallery provides online access to the collections and collections information through the Gallery website and online collection catalogues, which are updated regularly with new information as it becomes available.
6.2 The Gallery ‘Search the Collections’ site provides free access to Collection records and images. Information about copyright, and what you can and can’t do with content from the Gallery website, is available on the Copyright page. Images can be licensed for reproduction, for commercial and non-commercial purposes, via the ‘use this image’ link that appears next to each image.
6.3 More detailed collections information is held in ‘Registered Packet’ files, which are kept in the Archive & Library and may be consulted in the Public Study Room. The Archive & Library also provides an enquiry service, through which specific collections questions can be answered. All information received and given is processed in accordance with relevant statutory requirements, including data protection laws and the Freedom of Information Act.
7. Photography and filming
7.1 Members of the public can take photographs of Gallery’s collections on display in the Galleries for personal use unless there are copyright, conservation or loan issues, which are indicated by signage beside the works. Flash photography is not permitted. No unauthorised general filming is permitted in galleries for data protection and rights reasons. The same principles apply in exhibitions unless stated otherwise at entrance. Filming where there is a promotional benefit for the Gallery is managed and supervised by the Press Team and commercial filming is organised by the Rights & Images Department.
7.2 Visitors to the Public Study Room of the Archive & Library may make personal copies of information for their own private use. A self-service photocopier is available, subject to copyright legislation, for which a charge is made per sheet copied. Certain categories of information held in the Archive & Library, including those that are not suitable for photocopying, may be photographed subject to completion of a photograph declaration form and payment of a daily fee.
8. Due Diligence
8.1 The Gallery has a Collections and Exhibitions Due Diligence Policy which is published online.
8.2 Guidelines issued by the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) define due diligence as the necessary precaution that museums take to ensure that they acquire, borrow or lend only ethically acceptable items and reject items that may have been looted or illegally exported.
8.3 The Director of the Gallery has overall responsibility for ensuring the appropriate due diligence procedures are carried out. The application of due diligence procedures are assigned primarily to the Individual Curator or the Exhibition Curator(s) under the guidance of the Chief Curator and Exhibitions Manager. Where appropriate, further guidance and advice will be sought from additional curatorial and specialist consultants, such as colleagues from within the Gallery, other national museums, academic institutions, and major auction houses as well as consulting art loss databases.
8.4 The Gallery has the following Statement of Principles:
- The Gallery will not accept as a loan, gift or bequest any work without confirmation that the donor, vendor or lender has valid and legal title to retain and transfer the object.
- The Gallery will exercise due diligence to establish the legal status of objects under consideration, making every reasonable effort to investigate and clarify the provenance of an object.
- In practicing due diligence the Gallery will apply high standards to its research into acquisitions, long term loans and exhibition loans.
8.5 Where necessary, the Gallery will extend research beyond the information supplied by the vendor, donor or lender in an effort to clarify the history of the work. Further guidance and advice may be sought from external curators in other museums and galleries, specialists, academic institutions and major auction houses.
8.6 The Gallery will only acquire or borrow those works for which provenance has been established or, through presence in the public domain, are judged to have a history that is reasonably secure. Information obtained about the provenance of a work should be documented and preserved to ensure the Gallery’s ability to respond to public requests and to avoid duplication.
8.7 The Gallery recognises that in practice some works are not always accompanied by detailed histories and that in these circumstances, having taken into account information gathered through the curators’ research which must be conducted according to the Gallery’s established minimum standards, best judgment must apply.
9. Indemnity and Insurance
9.1 Collection works cannot be covered by UK Government Indemnity Scheme (UKGIS) whilst on the Gallery’s premises or in transit and the Gallery may not cover them by commercial insurance, unless in exceptional circumstances (for example, conservation work being undertaken off-site). The Gallery will therefore pay particular attention to risk management in all collections management activities.
9.2 Collection works lent for the public benefit to UK borrowers may be covered under the terms of UK GIS, provided that the Loans Registrar is satisfied that standards of care, security and fire prevention will, as far as is reasonably practicable, ensure the safety of the works on loan.
9.3 This will be achieved by ensuring that the security of the borrower is consistent with:
- the Gallery’s security and handling standards
- the terms of the NPG Standard Condition for Loans Loan Agreement
- the use of approved fine art transporters and agents
- The recommendations of the ACE National Security Team
9.4 Where these standards are met borrowing institutions will be required to cover loans up to the limit of the Minimum Liability as set out in the provisions of UK GIS either by means of commercial insurance or from their own resources and will be required to provide written proof to the Gallery of this liability having been accepted and provided for. Loans made to other UK Exchequer funded institutions cannot be covered under the terms of UK GIS and will therefore be lent at the Gallery’s risks subject to the safeguards set out above. Items lent to venues which do not qualify for GIS, may be covered by:
- A foreign state indemnity scheme
- Commercial insurance arranged either by the borrowing institution or by the Gallery through the London insurance brokers the cost being borne by the borrowing institution as a condition of the loan
9.5 In all cases it is the responsibility of the Loans Registrar to ensure that any insurance or international indemnity provides the appropriate level of cover and meets the safeguards set out above.
9.6 The Gallery applies for works on loan to the Gallery on an individual basis for GIS for works valued over the minimum specified where these are eligible for such cover. In return, the Gallery will take the same reasonable care of such works as it would of its own collections and will adhere to the UK Government Indemnity Guidelines. The Collections Registrar, and Exhibition Managers, are responsible for the annual reporting of contingent liabilities to the DCMS.
10. Loans Out
10.1 Loans from the Gallery to other institutions are made from both the Primary and Reference Collections and are divided into four areas for consideration:
10.2 For exhibitions and displays at venues around the UK and overseas. These fall into the following categories:
- Exhibitions and displays which allow a work or group of works to be understood in a different context by audiences
- Exhibitions and displays which contain strong educational content
- Exhibitions and displays which make an academic contribution to their subject
- Exhibitions and displays which publish a well-researched catalogue
Research loans: for scientific and technical analysis, examination, comparative work, illustration or educational purposes
Long term loans
10.3 To galleries, museums and public buildings for display on a renewable basis. Lent works will be viewable to members of the public either permanently or by appointment. All loan venues will be reviewed in terms of security, access and environmental conditions. Site visits to condition check the loans, assessments by the UK National Security Team and approval at Loans Meetings are scheduled into a three yearly cycle of renewal. Six months’ notice must be given for the return of long term loans to the National Portrait Gallery.
Arrangements with partner organisations
10.4 Partnership arrangements are also in place with galleries across the United Kingdom and fall into the category of long term loans, short term collaborative exhibition loans and works ‘in focus’.
10.5 Partnership arrangements are also in place with galleries in the North East Region and the South West region and fall into the category of long term loans, short term collaborative exhibition loans and works ‘in focus’.
10.6 Other partnerships with museums and galleries involving loans around the country are developed according to the Gallery’s National Strategy, for example, they may be linked to learning initiatives or collection developments.
10.7 Touring exhibitions organised by the National Programmes team in conjunction with regional museums.
10.8 Exhibitions organised by the National Portrait Gallery Exhibitions team which may contain works from the Gallery’s Collections.
10.9 Collaborative exhibitions curated from the Gallery Collection by partner museums and galleries relating to a particular project or initiative.
11. Loans In
11.1 Under the Museums and Galleries Act 1992 the Board of Trustees may borrow works from other public institutions or private individuals for the purposes of temporary exhibitions, displays, study, or for long-term display in galleries. All loans taken into the Gallery are governed by specific terms and conditions included in a Loan Agreement that makes clear the respective responsibilities and rights of owner and Gallery. Responsibility for the overall administration of incoming loans, including those for temporary exhibition or displays, rests with the Head of Exhibitions and the Head of Collections Services. The suitability of a work to be borrowed by the Gallery for display or study rests with the Curatorial team, the decision is based on condition information provided by the Conservation team.
11.2 No work should be borrowed unless it is in a suitable condition to travel and be displayed or used for purposes as defined in the Act. No conservation should normally be carried out on works borrowed for temporary exhibitions or displays unless agreed with the lender in writing in advance. In the event of unforeseen deterioration or emergency the permission of the owner must be obtained, preferably in writing, before any treatment is carried out.
11.3 It is the policy of the Gallery to accept loans that will be used for temporary exhibitions or displays or display and study only. Detailed arrangements for receipt, registration and indemnity or insurance are the responsibility of the Exhibitions Manager/s.
11.4 It is the policy of the Gallery to accept loans that will be used for temporary exhibitions or displays or display and study only. Detailed arrangements for receipt, registration and indemnity or insurance are the responsibility of the Collections Registrar.
Long Term Loans In
11.5 Authority for the acceptance of long-term loans in is the Board of Trustees, who must approve all loans over one year. The Director and in turn the Chief Curator and Curators should be consulted about all loans other than those for exhibitions. Detailed arrangements for receipt, registration and indemnity or insurance are the responsibility of the Collections Registrar.
12.1 This policy will be reviewed every five years or as required by legislative changes.
Edward Purvis, Head of Collections Services
Approved by the Board of Trustees, November 2023
Date of next review: November 2028
Appendix 1: Legal, Ethical and Standards Framework (on request)
The Museum’s Collections Management Policy framework is informed by legislation, ethical codes and appropriate sectoral standards.
A. Legislation applying to all Collections Management Polices
- The National Heritage Act, 1983 as amended 2002
- The Museums and Galleries Act, 1992 (as amended)
- The Public Records Acts, 1958, as amended 1967
- The Data Protection Act, 1998 and 2018
- The Freedom of Information Act, 2000
- Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, UNESCO, 1970
- The Requirements of HM Customs & Revenue
- Copyright Act, 1911 and 1956
- Copyright and Related Rights Regulations, 2003
- Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988
- Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Act, 2003
- Equality Act, 2010
- The General Data Protection Regulation, 2018
- Human Rights Act, 1998
- Racial and Religious Hatred Act, 2006
- Health and Safety at Work Act, 1974
- Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (as amended)
- The Environmental Information Regulations, 2004
- COSHH: Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations, 2002
B. Ethical codes applying to all Collections Management Policies
- Code of Ethics for Museums, ICOM, 2017 (including the ICOM ‘Red List’)
- Code of Ethics for Museums, Museums Association, 2015
- Combating Illicit Trade: Due Diligence Guidelines for Museums, Libraries and Archives on collecting and borrowing Cultural Material, DCMS, 2005
- UK Export Licensing for Cultural Goods – Procedures and guidance for exporters of works of art and other culture goods, Arts Council England, 2021
- Statement of Principles issued by the National Museum Directors Conference on spoliation of works of art during the Holocaust and World War II period, 1998; and its 2016 renewal
C. Sectoral standards applying to all Collections Management Policies
- The Accreditation Standard, Arts Council England, 2018
- Spectrum: UK Museum Collections Management Standard
- PAS197: 2009: Code of practice for cultural collections management, BSi and Collections Trust
D. Collections Information and Access Policy
D.1 Documentation and Cataloguing Standards
- Spectrum: UK Museum Collections Management Standard
- ISAD(g): General International Standard Archival Description, International Council on
- Archives, 2007
- Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules ('AACR 2', Joint Steering Committee, 2nd ed., 2002 revision): international library documentation standard. In process of super cession by Resource Description and Access ('RDA', 2010, revisions through 2013)
- MARC 21 ('machine-readable cataloguing') data standards (Library of Congress, 1999, revisions through 2013)
- Library of Congress Subject Headings (‘LCSH’)
- Library of Congress Authority File (‘LCAF’)
- Union List of Artist Names (‘ULAN’)
- Principles for Lending and Borrowing, 2021, NMDC/TEG
- Display Case supplement, UK Registrars’ Group
- Standard Facilities Report, UK Registrars’ Group
- Standard Facilities Report Security Supplement, UK Registrars’ Group
- Government Indemnity Scheme Guidelines, January 2016
E. Collections Care and Conservation Policy
- PAS 198:2012 Specification for managing environmental conditions for cultural collections
- Benchmarks in Collections Care for Museums, Archives and Libraries, 2018
- ‘Bizot’ Group Agreement: Achieving sustainability for galleries and museums, 2013
- PD 5454:2012 Guide for the storage and exhibition of archival materials
- Codes of Ethics: ICOM-CC /ICON
- Institute of Conservation’s (ICON) Conservation Register