Offering a portrait to the National Portrait Gallery

Collecting policy and approach

Our starting point is the Gallery's Collections Development Policy.

We collect portraits of the people who have shaped British history and culture, under the terms of the Museums and Galleries Act 1992. In addition the Gallery commissions portraits of eminent British people and acquires other works relevant to portraiture.

The Gallery is selective rather than comprehensive in acquiring portraits, and decisions about new acquisitions are made in line with our Collections Development Policy. The Gallery's reach is wider when it comes to acquiring portrait photographs and engravings.

When considering a potential acquisition or loan for the Gallery’s Collection, we check whether it meets the following criteria:

  • Significance: Does the portrait represent an individual who has made or is making a really significant contribution to British history or culture?
  • Representation: Is the individual sufficiently well-represented in the Collection already? Information is available on many of the portraits already owned by the Gallery at Search the Collection.
  • Artistic merit: Is the portrait the best or one of the best of the individual and done from life? At an appropriate time of life? Likeness, provenance, historical significance and artistic merit are considered.
  • Educational impact: How would the portrait help the Gallery's educational and interpretative work in the appreciation and understanding of portraiture? Would permission to reproduce the portrait on the Gallery’s website be granted?
  • Likelihood of display: Would the portrait be displayed regularly in the Gallery or is there a better home for it?
  • Financial considerations: Is the price right? Can the funds be raised? Is the portrait really a priority in the face of competing claims? What are the costs of storing and maintaining the portrait in perpetuity?

Making an offer

Sending an offer

The National Portrait Gallery welcomes offers of portraits to the Collection, whether by gift, purchase, bequest, transfer, Acceptance in Lieu, allocation or loan. This ensures that we reflect the diversity of people who have made, or are making, a substantial contribution to British history or culture. 

To help us to carefully consider your offer, please supply an image of the portrait and as much information as possible, including:

  • The sitter’s name
  • The artist’s name
  • Medium, e.g. painting, sculpture, miniature etc.
  • Dimensions (preferably in mm)
  • Details of any inscriptions or documentation for the portrait
  • Information about the circumstances surrounding the portrait’s creation if available, especially whether it was done from the life
  • Information on the portrait’s history/provenance and current location
  • The terms of the offer, i.e. is it being offered as a gift, bequest, purchase or loan? Please note that the Gallery has a limited acquisitions budget so is only able to make relatively few purchases.
  • If an artwork, whether it is framed and glazed
  • Information about the current condition of the portrait.

We also consider gifts through the Acceptance in Lieu scheme and by bequest – as long as the same criteria above applies.

As to borrowing a portrait, while we appreciate receiving such offers, our approach is highly selective, and we are only able to accept very few portraits of outstanding significance.

If you would like to offer a portrait, and you believe it meets the above criteria, please email the above information to the Collections Registration Team at [email protected] or post to Collections Registration Team, The National Portrait Gallery, 39-45 Orange Street, London, WC2H 0HE.

** Please note ** Photographic and archival acquisitions should be directed to: [email protected].

Responding to offers

** Please note ** The Gallery has recently completed the Inspiring People redevelopment project, which saw us undertake a complete re-presentation of the Collection as well as a significant refurbishment of the building. Unfortunately, this has resulted in some significant delays in responding to new offers to the Collection due to the need to focus all of our resources on this major project. As such, while we aim to respond to new offers within 10 working days, please note that it may take longer than this to get back to you. Thank you for your patience and please be assured that your offer is important to us.

Once we have all information about the offer (we may ask you for further information about the offer), we will share the offer with our Curatorial Team, who will assess it against the Gallery’s Collections Development Policy. The Gallery’s Curators are responsible for particular time periods of the Collection (by century) and also by portrait type such as photographs or engravings.

Once our Curatorial Team has had the opportunity to carefully consider an offer, a member of the Collections Registration Team will contact the offerer again with our decision, either to present the offer at the next Curatorial Acquisitions Meeting if of interest or to decline if an offer is not considered viable.

First Curatorial Acquisitions Meeting

Offers are discussed at a quarterly Curatorial Acquisitions Meeting, chaired by the Chief Curator. The Curators and Director discuss each offer in line with the Collections Development Policy and against resource availability. The Collections Registration Team will aim to update offerers within 5 working days of the Curatorial Acquisitions Meeting with a definitive response or, if necessary, seeking further information.

Viewing and delivery of offer

If the Curatorial Acquisitions Meeting believes that an offer should go forwards for acquisition, the Collections Registration Team will arrange for the portrait to be brought into the Gallery for a viewing by our Curatorial Team and an initial conservation assessment by the Gallery’s Conservation Team.

Second Curatorial Acquisitions Meeting

The portrait will be viewed in-person at a second Curatorial Acquisitions Meeting where the Director and Curators will approve the portrait for recommendation to the Board of Trustees if they wish it to go forwards or decline if not viable. The Collections Registration Team will aim to update offerers within 5 working days of the Curatorial Acquisitions Meeting with a definitive response.

Trustees Meeting

The Gallery's Board of Trustees, meeting quarterly, make final decisions on accepting portraits for the Primary Collection - whether they be paintings, drawings, engravings, miniatures, sculpture, photographs, mixed media or new media. Once the minutes of the meeting have been approved at the following meeting, they are made available on the Gallery's website, together with the name of the donor or vendor, on the Minutes of Meetings of the Board of Trustees page.

It is the Chief Curator, meeting with Curators at the quarterly Curatorial Acquisitions Meeting, who decides which engravings and photographs to acquire for the much larger Photographs Collection and Reference Collection.

If the Trustees approve the portrait, the Collections Registration Team will inform the offerer and finalise the acquisition. If the Trustees decline the portrait, the Collections Registration Team will inform the offerer and make arrangements to return the portrait.

Agreeing a price and other financial considerations

Normally, we expect those offering portraits to name an asking price for the Gallery to consider. If a private individual does not have an asking price in mind, the Gallery would recommend that he or she should obtain professional advice on an open market valuation from an appropriate dealer or auction house. Alternatively, the Gallery can suggest a price that it would be willing to pay for a portrait but it should be understood that this would be a price that the Gallery would be willing to pay rather than an open market valuation. Before a purchase can be agreed, it is important to be clear whether VAT is chargeable (if so, the Gallery prefers VAT to be added to the sale price rather than included under the 'special scheme' because the Gallery can reclaim VAT). It is also important to be clear whether there are import duties for sales from overseas (a direct sale to the Gallery does not incur duty provided certain procedures are followed) and whether Artist’s Resale Right applies. Payment will normally be made within 28 days of receipt of an invoice, following the formal approval of the acquisition. In order to make payment directly into a bank account, the Gallery needs the banking details of the vendor. If the offered wishes payment to be made to a dealer, a company or a third-party, they must provide signed instructions in writing.

Transport and insurance

The Gallery does not expect to pay insurance or transport charges on offers for the Collection, unless identified and agreed in advance. Normally, we would expect the portrait to be covered by the offerer's insurance while it is on offer to the Gallery, or deposited at the owner’s risk.

Good title

The Gallery needs to establish good title before accepting a portrait. Offerers are asked to supply evidence of ownership and dealers acting on behalf of an owner need to provide evidence that they are entitled to act for the owner. The Gallery is obliged to make a formal check on ownership during the period 1933 to 1945 so that it is satisfied, under Government guidelines relating to Holocaust spoliation, that portraits could not conceivably have been looted by the Nazis, unlikely though this is for most British portraits. Offerers are asked to provide the fullest possible documentation about the provenance of portraits completed in or before 1945. Finally, if a portrait has been imported into Britain since 1970, offerers should provide evidence that it was legally exported from the country of origin. For further information, see the Gallery's Due Diligence policy.

Copyright

Those making an offer should provide information and documentary evidence, if available, concerning ownership of copyright in the portrait. Any work by a living artist or one who died less than 70 years ago will be in copyright. However, a portrait and its copyright may be under 2 different ownerships. For commissioned portraits, copyright in those commissioned before 1 August 1989 usually resides with the commissioner. Those making offers should confirm that the copyright is included in the price, as far as the offerer may own the copyright.

Information Requests

As a public body the National Portrait Gallery is subject to the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, and the Data Protection legislation. Although we do not receive many requests relating to particular acquisitions, it is important to be clear that any paperwork supplied to the Gallery may be the subject of a request and made available to the public. If you wish to supply written or e-mail correspondence in confidence (for which the Act provides an exemption), please make this clear at the time of correspondence. This does not preclude disclosure: all access requests are judged on a case-by-case basis according to the Act's legal provisions. The Gallery would of course, where possible, inform those providing information in confidence before disclosing such material.

After acquisition

Following acquisition, the first thing for the Gallery is to ensure a portrait's ongoing good condition, the second is to understand it fully by study and research and the third is to make the portrait known. These steps may happen in parallel. Researching, conserving and mounting, housing and digitising a portrait can be costly. All acquisitions are recorded on Explore the Collection.