The Gallery holds the most extensive collection of portraits in the world. Search over 215,000 works, 150,000 of which are illustrated from the 16th Century to the present day.

Advanced Collection search

Subjects and themes

To help visitors explore the Gallery's collections every portrait digitised is keyworded at the Gallery by subject, with five main categories: accessory, activity, dress, genre and theme. Some individual keywords in each category are illustrated with a selection of portraits below. To explore the full list of keywords in each category and the full set of portraits keyworded in each category, go to the Subjects and Themes section under Portrait in Advanced Search.


Objects and other elements within the portrait (examples: art, books, clocks, flowers, maps, mirrors, pets and textiles).

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What sitters are doing (examples: dancing, eating and drinking, making art and music, reading, sleeping and writing).

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What sitters are wearing and holding (examples: glasses, fans, gloves, hats, jewellery, umbrellas).

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Portraiture types (examples: self-portraits, group portraits, portraits of children and families, nudes, weddings).

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Overarching themes (examples: diversity, events and occasions, artists in their studios, words and inscriptions, gardens).

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Our channel

View a wide collection of video content on our YouTube channel from past projects to our latest films.

Sit back and watch

Artist and sitter interviews

Get insights into creating portraiture from BP Portrait Award 2020 artists and their sitters.

Explore behind the scenes

Sleeping Awake

Watch our film created to say ‘goodbye’ to the Gallery before we closed for our major transformation project.

Hear our story