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.

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Cultural Diversity at the National Portrait Gallery

Themes of identity lie at the heart of our work. The Gallery's policy is to represent people of achievement in British history and culture. This policy has remained constant since our foundation in 1856, and we continually review how to fulfil it and how to respond to the changing nature of society.

To read more about the National Portrait Gallery’s commitment to diversity please see our Equality Policy and Collections Development Policy.

This audit of cultural diversity at the Gallery includes research, publications, online resources, exhibitions, displays and projects. Its aim is to highlight the Gallery’s work to date and make research into cultural diversity in our Collection accessible. In addition, our events programme has included a rich mix of activity exploring cultural identity and reflecting the rich diversity of Britain.

Cultural diversity in this context focuses on identity, race and representation. The Gallery seeks to engage and represent BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) communities to reflect the cultural diversity of Britain. BAME is the terminology used in the UK to describe people of non-white descent. The word ‘black’ refers to people with origins in Africa or the Caribbean. The word ‘Asian’ refers to all Asian countries and regions, not to Bangladesh, India and Pakistan only.

Our Collection

We have a continual commitment to acquire works for our Collection where there are key gaps, for example BAME sitters and artists. Recent additions include the largest acquisition of portraits of Afro-Caribbean sitters into our primary collection with the Black is the New Black series of 37 photographs by Simon Frederick and portraits of sitters including Sonia Boyce, John Akomfrah, Benjamin Zephaniah, Stormzy, Sheku Kanneh-Mason, Novelist and Prem, Jorja Smith, Adwoa Aboah, Chi Onwurah, Thelma Golden and Duro Olowu, Julie Adenuga, Skepta and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex.

Discover our most recent acquisitions

For further information please see our Collections Development Policy

Portraits in the Collection that include representations of BAME (Black, Asian, minority ethnic) people are tagged with term Diversity. This search term is included in the Advanced Collection Search, under Search by Portrait > Subjects and Themes > Theme. Currently there are almost 3000 portraits, including those where the identity of the sitter is yet to be identified.

BAME sitters in the Collection (those whose identity is known) have been tagged in the group BAME sitters.* This search term is included in the Advanced Collection Search (under Search by Person > Group > Sitter grouping) where it can be combined with other filters.

BAME artists in the Collection are tagged in the group BAME artists.* This search term is included in the Advanced Collection Search (under Search by Person > Group > Artist grouping) where it can be combined with other filters.

The People, Portraits and Places page highlights the portraits, sitters, artists in the Collection that are linked to a specific country. Almost 200 countries are included.

* The BAME sitters and BAME artists lists are not comprehensive as the Gallery has not historically collected data on the ethnicity of sitters or artists and this information cannot always be established retrospectively.

Research

Our newest AHRC Doctoral Collaborative Studentship will focus on the Gallery’s links to transatlantic slave trade. In particular, the project seeks to understand the impact of wealth derived from slavery on its founders, donors, and the sitters represented in its portraits, in order to be more transparent about the Gallery’s own history and the legacies of empire in British society today.

Read more

The Future

Central to our future plans is the the Gallery’s Inspiring People Redevelopment Project:

  • There will be a comprehensive redisplay of the Gallery. A core aim of this will be to tell the stories of those who are currently missing or under-represented and to feature multiple voices from multiple sources, including audience participation programmes from a range of communities.
  • We will be organising a series of national community and schools outreach programmes, including Faces and Places - a new schools outreach programme in seven London boroughs accompanied by displays in nearby schools, libraries, arts centres and museums and Citizen UK - a project working with local heritage and community partners in London and Wolverhampton to explore stories of migration and movement within the UK.

Exhibitions, display and projects

Inspiring Photographs: Collecting for the Future (2019-20)

Indian Nobility in Britain (2019)

Njideka Akunyili Crosby: ‘The Beautyful Ones.’ (2018-19)

Black is the New Black: Portraits by Simon Frederick (2018-19)

Michael Jackson: On the Wall (2018)

Black Chronicles: Photographic Portraits 1862 – 1948 (2016)

Ben Okri on Ayuba Suleiman Diallo: a Dialogue Across Time (2012-2014)

George Catlin: American Indian Portraits (2013)

Cornelia Sorabji: India’s First Woman Lawyer (2013)

Diplomatic Dignitaries (2013)

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (2013)

Victorian Connections (2012)

Chasing Mirrors (2009 – 2012)

Contemporary Connections: The Singh Twins (2010)

The Indian Portrait 1560 – 1860 (2010)

Soft Lights and Sweet Music: Photographs of Elizabeth Welch (2009)

Want to see more of me?: Donald MacLellan (2008)

Portraits, People and Abolition (2007)

Different Worlds: Contemporary Responses to Migration (2007)

Devotional (2007)

Four Corners (2007)

Dadabhai Naoroji (2007)

Between Worlds: Voyagers to Britain 1700-1850 (2007)

Benjamin’s Britain (2006)

Cherish: Chinese Families in Britain (2006)

Chinese Connections (2006)

In Dahomey, Photographs by Horace Ové (2005)

Cameroon – London (2005)
Display and arts residencies Joseph Chila and Samuel Finlak

Frida Kahlo: Portrait of an Icon (2005)

The World’s Most Photographed (2005)

Anna May Wong (2004-5)

Off The Beaten Track: Three Centuries of Women Travellers (2004)

You Look Beautiful Like That: The Portrait Photographs of Seydou Keita and Malick Sidibé (2003)

Before Windrush (2002)

Black Power: Photographs by Donald MacLellan (1998)

Dawoud Bey (1998)
Dawoud Bey had a residency at the Gallery in 1998 and worked with high school and college students from three schools in London. He photographed Stuart Hall during the residency.

Ignatius Sancho: An African Man of Letters (1997)

David Livingstone and the Victorian Encounter with Africa (1996)

The Raj: India and the British 1600-1947 (Winter 1990-1991)
No webpage on the Gallery’s website but the catalogue is The Raj: Indian and the British 1600 – 1974 by C.A. Bayly

 

Resources

Read our Equality and Diversity policy

See our anti-racism commitment