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Offering a portrait to the National Portrait Gallery

The National Portrait Gallery is currently focusing on and directing resources towards our major redevelopment project, Inspiring People, which will see a transformed Gallery re-opening in 2023.

During this time we will only be acquiring works in exceptional circumstances, as outlined below. Offers can still be sent to [email protected] but please note that we will only be able to respond to offers that meet the exceptional circumstances criteria. For other offers we would be grateful if you could contact us from July 2023. We appreciate your patience and would be very glad to hear from you then.

Please note that photographic and archival acquisitions are ongoing and should be directed to [email protected]

Exceptional circumstances for acquisitions prior to 2023 may include, but are not limited to:

  • Works currently on long term loan to the Gallery that are offered for sale by the lender.
  • Works of sitters of significance as defined in the Collections Development Policy who are not currently represented in the Primary or Reference Collection.
  • Works depicting currently under-represented groups such as female sitters or sitters from the cultural, social or ethnic backgrounds outlined in the Collections Development Policy who meet the existing criteria of the Policy and who are not currently represented in the Primary Collection.
  • Works that meet the criteria as laid out in the Collections Development Policy that have the capacity for a transformational impact in significantly increasing audience engagement or would be required for display within the exhibition or display programme.

For more information please consult our Collection Development Policy.

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 persons 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.

In making acquisitions, we ask ourselves a series of searching questions: 

  • Does the portrait represent an individual who has made or is making a really significant contribution to British history or culture? 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.
  • 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 factors to consider.
  • 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 forthcoming?
  • Would the portrait be displayed regularly? Would it mean more in another setting, i.e. is there a better home?
  • 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

Offers are handled by the Collections Registrar, Cate Pennington, contactable at [email protected]. Those making an offer should supply the fullest possible details of the subject of the portrait, the artist, the size and medium, details of any inscriptions or documentation, information about the circumstances surrounding the portrait's creation if available, especially whether it was done from the life, and information on its history and current location. In the first instance, an image of the work is helpful. We need to know whether the portrait is being offered as a gift or a purchase. As to borrowing a portrait, while we are glad to receive offers, our approach is highly selective, only accepting a very few portraits of outstanding significance.

Gallery curators are responsible for particular parts of the collection by century and also by portrait type such as photographs or engravings.

The decision process

It is the Gallery's Trustees, meeting four times a year, who decide which portraits - whether they be paintings, drawings, engravings, miniatures, sculpture, photographs or mixed or new media - to include in the Primary Collection. It is the Chief Curator, meeting with curators at the quarterly Curatorial Acquisitions Group meeting, who decides which engravings and photographs to include in the much larger Engravings and Photographs Collections.

Curatorial Meeting

Offers are selected for discussion at quarterly Curatorial Acquisitions Group meetings, chaired by the Chief Curator. We acknowledge offers on receipt and aim to provide an update within five working days of the meeting, whether with a definitive response or, if necessary, seeking further information. The process of research may take some time. Where all the information needed for a decision is not forthcoming, this may lead to delays. Offers for the Primary Collection need to be given final approval by the Gallery's Trustees but most photographic and reference collection acquisitions are approved at the Curatorial Acquisitions Group meeting.

Trustees Meeting

The Gallery's Trustees, meeting quarterly, make final decisions on accepting portraits for the Primary Collection. 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.

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 offerer 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.

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 two 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.

Freedom of Information

As a public body the National Portrait Gallery is subject to the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act, 2000, and the Data Protection Act 1998. 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 three steps may happen in parallel. The cost of an acquisition goes beyond the purchase price. Researching, conserving and mounting, housing and digitising a portrait can be expensive. All acquisitions are recorded on the Gallery's website. 

Complaints

If you are dissatisfied with the way that the offer of a portrait to the Gallery is handled, please get in touch with the Chief Curator. If you are still dissatisfied, please get in touch with the Director.

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