Press Release: Simon Schama opens new exhibition at National Portrait Gallery to accompany major book and TV series on The Face of Britain

Wednesday 16 September 2015


16 Sep 2015 -4 Jan 2016, at the National Portrait Gallery, London  Admission free



Five-part TV series on BBC TWO starting in September 2015 



Published Viking / Penguin Random House, Hardback £30 on 16 September 2015

Historian Simon Schama has joined forces with National Portrait Gallery curators to create a free exhibition of five intriguing new thematic displays in spaces across the permanent collections. Staged on three floors of the Gallery, portraits from across the Collection are displayed for the first time in cross-period groups according  to themes rather than chronology, taking a long view of the history of British portraits in each room.  This free exhibition includes over 120 portraits from the Gallery’s Collections as well as several loans.   

To coincide with the broadcast and publication this month of a new five-part TV series and book, the exhibition Simon Schama’s Face of Britain(16 September 2015-4 January 2016), has been developed in partnership with the BBC. The collaboration also involves Oxford Film and TV who are making the television series for BBC Two and Viking / Penguin Random House who have published the book.

 The displays, chapters and episodes reflect Simon Schama’s innovative and challenging exploration of the development, character and meanings of British portraiture. Planned with the Gallery’s team of curators led by Chief Curator Dr Tarnya Cooper, and Dr Lucy Peltz, each room in the exhibition comprises a cross-period selection in various media and, like each chapter and episode, explores one of the following themes: Power, People, Fame, Love and Self.

Visitors to the Gallery, readers of the book and viewers of the series are able to see a wide range of British portraits which cross the centuries, so Sir Winston Churchill and Baroness Thatcher can be seen alongside Elizabeth I (Power); Sir Kenelm and Venetia Digby, with Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Jane Morris, several Lewis Carroll portraits of Alice Liddell and John Lennon and Yoko One (Love); Francis Drake and Thomas Carlyle with Diana, Princess of Wales (Fame); a group of Suffragettes alongside boxers (People); and a self-portrait room combining Sir Joshua Reynolds, Dame Laura Knight and Self created by Marc Quinn from his own blood. 

This free exhibition is organised as a series of thematic displays in five different locations across the Gallery.    

Dr Tarnya Cooper, Chief Curator, National Portrait Gallery, London, says: ‘This is an exciting opportunity for the Gallery and has allowed us to look at our remarkable Collections in new ways; from grand portraits of monarchs, insightful images of statesmen, writers, actors and reformers, to early photographs of street criers. We are delighted to be working in partnership with Simon Schama whose vision and expertise has brought this project to fruition.’

WEBSITE The Face of Britainwebsite includes a filmed introduction by Simon Schama and a guide to the exhibition   

AUDIO GUIDE An audio guide app with Simon Schama talking about some of the portraits has been developed by Locatify    

OXFORD DICTIONARY OF NATIONAL BIOGRAPHY Biographies of sitters in the exhibition can be found at 

EVENTS A full programme of events accompanies this display. 

For further Press information, please contact:

Neil Evans, National Portrait Gallery: Tel. 020 7312 2452 (not for publication) / Email [email protected] 

Jenny Fry, Penguin Random House Tel: 020 7010 3251 / Email [email protected]

Sarah Hall, BBC Press Office, Tel:  07792657437/ Email: [email protected]

To download press releases and images, please go to:

National Portrait Gallery, St Martin’s Place WC2H 0HE, opening hours Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday: 10am – 6pm (Gallery closure commences at 5.50pm) Late Opening: Thursday, Friday: 10am – 9pm  (Gallery closure commences at 8.50pm) Nearest Underground: Leicester Square/Charing Cross General information: 0207 306 0055  Recorded information: 020 7312 2463  Website