Over a year ago, we closed our doors to undergo a major transformation. We’re excited to share with you an update on our Inspiring People redevelopment works, as well as some discoveries made during construction, and some changes you can look forward to seeing at the Gallery when it reopens in 2023.

New Entrance & Forecourt

We’ll be welcoming you back to our Gallery with a more open and accessible visitor entrance and forecourt, that’ll be on the North Façade of the building. Three windows are being altered to become doors that’ll lead to a new entrance hall and, in the video below, you can hear from our Director Dr. Nicholas Cullinan and Architect Jamie Fobert on what this new entrance will look like…


You can also take a glimpse below at the installation of the pedestrian bridge that will connect this new entrance and forecourt, named Ross Place.


Our New Learning Centre

Inspiring People will also transform the quality of education provision at the Gallery through the creation of a new Learning Centre. This much-improved Centre will increase the Gallery’s learning spaces from one studio to three, with each studio having specialist equipment and breakout space. This will offer a better learning experience for schools, families, young people, community groups and adult learners.


Hidden Details

During the construction work at the Gallery, we’ve also made some exciting discoveries, including some original architectural details. We uncovered windows which brought in new light and openness to the space, as we look at ways of highlighting these architectural features in our new Gallery.


Collection Discoveries

These architectural details weren’t the only discovery as part of our Inspiring People project. In order for the redevelopment to take place, we started by decanting our Collection. This enabled our Conservation team to inspect and survey all displayed portraits before they were placed into storage, or went on loan. It was during this process that our Conservators discovered more about the life of some of the portraits in our Collection.

James Anthony Froude by Sir George Reid, 1881 © National Portrait Gallery, London

James Anthony Froude by Sir George Reid, 1881 © National Portrait Gallery, London

Alexandra Gent, a Conservator in our team, explains: “Removing each portrait from display presented a rare opportunity to see so many portraits up close at once. The Conservation team inspected and photographed both the front and back of each framed painting, as they packed them ready for transportation. Whilst the portrait itself is most important, a lot can be learnt by looking at the reverse of artworks. As well as helping us to understand how a painting was made, examining the back of a picture and its frame can often reveal information about its history through the presence of inscriptions and exhibition labels.”

Back of frame of James Anthony Froude by Sir George Reid, 1881 © National Portrait Gallery, London

While moving the Collection, it was found that the back of one particular painting had more information attached than we would typically be expected. When we took the small portrait of James Anthony Froude, who was a historian born in 1818, out of the display case in the Victorian galleries, three hand-written letters were visible, attached to the reverse of the painting.

We asked Gent about the history of these letters, who shared: “It transpired that these letters had been sent by the artist George Reid to the man who had commissioned him to make the portrait of Froude, John Skelton. Skelton moved in the same social circles as Froude and wrote essays, reviews and historical papers using the pen-name of Shirley, including ‘The Table Talk of Shirley’ (1895).

Reid was one of the leading Scottish portrait artists at the time, working in Aberdeen, Edinburgh and occasionally London, and would later become President of the Royal Scottish Academy. The letters, attached to the back of the painting, were sent from Reid to Skelton in Edinburgh and showed that the artist stayed in London when Froude sat for his portrait.”

In these letters, first dated 29 January 1881, Reid writes to Skelton to accept the commission and suggest he makes a cabinet size painting in oils instead of watercolour. Skelton replied saying he will require two or three sittings from Froude in order to create the portrait. The letters continue, with each one discussing the portrait and, in the final letter on the 8 May 1881, Reid reports that the portrait has been finished and asks Skelton where he would like it to be sent.

Upon making this discovery, the letters were examined by a paper conservator. Although they obscure the back of the painting, it was decided that they should be left in place, rather than risk damage by removing them.

The frame itself also has an important part to play in the story of this painting, as Gent notes: “The portrait has a gilded frame with enriched fluted decoration — one of four standard styles that Reid routinely used for his portraits. While the letters had already been given some protection by covering them with a layer of thin polyester film, the back of the frame has now been adapted so that they are encased behind a solid sealed backing board. This will ensure that they continue to be preserved, while new digital photographs have been taken of the letters so that the information remains accessible.”

Find out more about our transformational redevelopment works


Got something to say?

Tracey Falcon

05 August 2023, 10:05

Hi I visited the gallery last week. I loved the collections BUT. Your lifts and access are not fit for purpose. I am a wheelchair user. The lifts are small and so I had to wait an age until there was room for me but the most ludicrous design issue was the fact that on a couple of the floors the lift is accessed along a narrow corridor that is only wide enough for one pushchair or wheelchair, it isn't wide enough for one wheelchair/pushchair to get off and another to get in. After reversing all the way back along the corridor to let a family out of the lift, the lift had already left before I could wheel back to it. Incredibly frustrating and a shocking error in a new design.

Carolyn Scott

03 January 2023, 13:21

Thank you for uncovering layers boarded up in the past. Hopefully we can help ourselves to process our nation’s past in a similar way to seek out some aspects of fundamental beauty and truth. Liberating!!


15 December 2022, 15:42

Many thanks for the comments. All of our entrances will have step-free access when we reopen in 2023.

Richard Holroyd

15 December 2022, 13:31

I'm so looking forward to the reopening and at last see the. collection again. I have to say that I was disappointed to see that I had to allow Marketing Cookies to view the videos and other items; I didn't allow them and so I have lost yet another opportunity to see and hear about the gallery

Kay Lily

15 December 2022, 12:07

I am so looking forward to the NPG reopening. I live in London, I am a frequent visitor to the gallery and have missed it so much while it’s been closed.

Christoph Andrats

15 December 2022, 10:55

I see steps leading to the near entrance doors. Will there be step-free access to these doors? Or will wheelchair users be excluded from using the new doors?

Jan Hodges

15 December 2022, 10:28

I am so pleased that the collection will still be arranged chronologically. The Gallery holds a special place in my childhood heart when I spent most Sundays there.


15 December 2022, 08:51

Will there be any step-free access please? This didn’t seem clear from your video.

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