How large is the collection?
The National Portrait Gallery holds the most extensive collection of portraits in the world. The Primary Collection of paintings, sculpture, miniatures, drawings, prints, photographs, silhouettes and mixed/new media works contains 12,696 portraits (as at June 2021) of the most famous people in British history from the 16th Century to the present day. Of these, 4,128 are paintings, sculptures and miniatures. In addition, there are some 8,545 works on paper.
The Gallery also holds a Reference Collection of portraits, predominantly printed portraits and a smaller collection of drawings and sketchbooks, together with silhouettes and caricatures, which have been acquired primarily for research and documentary purposes and to provide a supplementary context for the Gallery’s Primary Collection. The Reference Collection is primarily housed in the Heinz Archive and Library and contains approximately 85,000 works on paper, 2,800 drawings, 75 paintings and 170 sculptures, and a small but growing collection of popular ceramics. This unique national resource allows the Gallery to collect beyond the acquisition criteria for the main Collection, and is drawn upon for display purposes as well as supporting learning activities and research into portraiture at the Gallery.
The Heinz Archive and Library contains some 40,000 books and manages the Gallery’s Records and Collected Archives.
The Gallery also holds an important Photographs Collection which spans both the Primary and Reference Collections. It comprises more than 250,000 original photographic images of which at least 130,000 are original negatives. They date from the 1840s to the present day. The Collection is made widely available online, with 222,278 digital records available (of which 159,042, or 71%, are illustrated) as at June 2021. These records comprise 12,696 Primary Collection portraits and nearly 210,000 from the Reference Collections.
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