The commissioning process

The National Portrait Gallery collection is by necessity selective rather than comprehensive, and this applies even more so to the commissioning programme which is intended to supplement rather than replace other forms of collecting. In choosing the subject of a commission, current popularity is not enough; there needs to be some likelihood that the individual and their achievements will be of enduring interest. To provide a mechanism to cope with occasional lobbying from interested parties and to minimise any sense of partisanship, decisions are made annually by the Gallery Trustees as a body, with a view to selecting about half a dozen individuals from a longer list, with any three dissenting voices placing a candidate out of further consideration for a period of time.

Once the prospective subject has been selected, obtaining their agreement is the next step. Although the process is rarely altogether straightforward, most commissions follow a similar track, involving staff and trustees, artists and sitters, with the staff input led by the Director and the Contemporary Curator.

  • Analysis of prospective subjects by professional groupings (staff); ideas for portrait subjects (artists, trustees, staff, visitors and the wider public)
  • Analyse what is already in the collection to avoid duplication (staff)
  • Discuss balance of needs by profession; decide subjects for commissions in following year (Trustees meeting)
  • Meet with subjects to discuss portrait and possible artists; meet with artists to seek their involvement (staff)
  • Arrange for artist and sitter to meet, facilitate the process, overcoming problems, and present progress reports to Trustees meetings (staff)
  • Consider completed portrait for acceptance (Trustees meeting)
  • Exhibit the portrait at the Gallery, arranging framing, display and publicity (staff)
    King Charles III,    by Bryan Organ,    1980,    NPG 5365,    © National Portrait Gallery, London King Charles III
by Bryan Organ
acrylic on canvas, 1980
70 in. x 70 1/8 in. (1778 mm x 1782 mm)
NPG 5365
© National Portrait Gallery, London
    Gary Rhodes,    by Barry Marsden,    23 November 1998,    NPG P718(24),    © National Portrait Gallery, London Gary Rhodes
by Barry Marsden
colour transparency, 23 November 1998
5 in. x 4 in. (127 mm x 102 mm)
NPG P718(24)
© National Portrait Gallery, London