The Gallery holds the most extensive collection of portraits in the world. Search over 215,000 works, 150,000 of which are illustrated from the 16th Century to the present day.


What's allowed and what isn't

The National Portrait Gallery's website is here for your enjoyment. You may:

  • access, download and/or print contents for non-commercial research and private study purposes;
  • print forms to enable you to order products and services from the Gallery.

However, if you wish to use this material in any other way, you must seek separate permission from us.

To license images for reproduction, please contact the Gallery's image licensing department.

To license text, please contact Publications.

All other acts are prohibited, including but not limited to the following:

  • reproduction of any kind in any medium
  • distribution of hard or electronic copies
  • storage in any medium including extraction into any other database, computer programme or website
  • public performance, broadcast, display or communication
  • rental, leasing or lending
  • extraction, manipulation, adaptation, translation or alteration of any kind.

For further details, please see the Gallery's Intellectual Property Rights Policy

An introduction to copyright

Copyright is the exclusive legal right to permit or prohibit copying of certain (usually creative) works for a limited time.

This right is recognised in national laws and international treaties and applies to all media, including the internet.

Copyright belongs to the family of intellectual property rights, which includes patents, design, laws of confidence (such as trade secrets) and trade marks. See for further details of these.

Under the UK Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 (as amended), copyright protects original literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works; films; sound recordings; broadcasts and typographical arrangements.  Other things may be protected under different national laws.

Copyright usually lasts for the creator's lifetime, plus the end of 70 years after their death (i.e. copyright always expires on 31 December in a given year).

The way copyright law works in practice can be complex and subtle, so it is essential to get detailed, expert advice on each individual case. The idea behind copyright is, however, quite simple.


The first Copyright Act came in 1709.  Known as the Statute of Anne (as it came into force during the reign of Queen Anne), it is widely considered the earliest piece of copyright legislation anywhere in the world. It was introduced to protect the interests of publishers.

Later that century, the artist William Hogarth lobbied Parliament for the protection of artists' rights. Hogarth had worked long and hard to achieve his status as an artist and satirist, and was angry to see inferior copies of his work being sold in large quantities, for which he received no payment. The new technology of engraving had made copying quick and easy.

The first UK copyright legislation was guided by the principles that:

  • it was in the general interest that people keep creating new interesting works in the arts and sciences
  • people would not create new works without a guarantee their efforts would be rewarded
  • the guarantee of reward for effort was to give people an exclusive right to their own work, so anyone else wishing to exploit their work would have to reward them for it.

Under UK copyright law you are automatically the owner of copyright in any work you produce, be it a picture, poem, sculpture or story. The main exception to this rule is that if you are an employee copyright in any work you produce in your job usually belongs automatically to your employer.

An important thing to remember is that ownership of copyright can be completely distinct and separate from ownership of a physical object. For example, the Gallery owns a number of paintings and photographs (objects) which it cannot copy without permission, as it does not also own the copyright. Often this rests with the artist or photographer, or their estate.

Copyright and the National Portrait Gallery

The Gallery has a public duty not only to conserve and display works in its Collection but also to ensure they are correctly represented in reproductions and publications.

As a result of continuing research, from time to time adjustments are made in the attributions of artists and sitters, and these amendments are reflected in Gallery publications such as this website. Likewise, we ensure pictures are represented in their most recent state of restoration.

There are sometimes sensitive issues involving artists, sitters, donors or lenders of Collection works, to which we must be responsive. Accordingly, we tightly control the circumstances and quality of reproductions from the Collection.

The Gallery's image licensing department issues images for reproduction purposes. We also exert strict controls on all photography in the Gallery, which is allowed only on the understanding that copyright rests with us and that any further reproduction deriving from resulting photographic materials is subject to our written permission.

The Gallery is a strong supporter of free entry - we don't think visitors should have to pay to see the Collection. Those who may never be able to visit us can enjoy and learn about the Collection through images published in books and magazines, and on television and the internet.

The Gallery's image licensing department raises money by licensing reproductions, thus supporting both the free entry policy and the Gallery's main functions caring for its Collection and engaging people with its works.

The National Portrait Gallery champions clear and balanced information about copyright and licensing.

Further information

National Portrait Gallery's Intellectual Property Rights Policy Notice and Take down Policy UK Intellectual Property Office