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Room 32

Life & Death: Masks

This room contains a variety of types of mask. Many are direct casts of the human face, some made during the sitter’s lifetime and others made immediately after their death. Therefore, these might be considered as among the most realistic portraits in the Collection. Historically, life and death masks were a method for preserving a person’s likeness. It was believed that personal attributes and characteristics such as the imagination and creativity could be ‘read’ in their facial features. Making a mask is still a lengthy and uncomfortable process. Facial expressions often appear strained and contorted, resulting in an ‘unnatural’ representation of the model. While traditional life and death masks are not considered works of art, contemporary artists have used similar casting methods to make self-portraits that explore and interrogate their own mortality.

17 portraits on display in Room 32 on Floor 1 at the National Portrait Gallery

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Oliver Cromwell, by Unknown artist - NPG 4025

Oliver Cromwell

by Unknown artist
plaster cast of death-mask, possibly late 17th century
On display in Room 32 on Floor 1 at the National Portrait Gallery
NPG 4025

William Wordsworth, by Benjamin Robert Haydon - NPG 2020

William Wordsworth

by Benjamin Robert Haydon
plaster cast of life-mask, 1815
On display in Room 32 on Floor 1 at the National Portrait Gallery
NPG 2020

John Keats, by Benjamin Robert Haydon - NPG 686

John Keats

by Benjamin Robert Haydon
plaster cast of life-mask, 1816
On display in Room 32 on Floor 1 at the National Portrait Gallery
NPG 686

Benjamin Robert Haydon, by Unknown artist - NPG 2802

Benjamin Robert Haydon

by Unknown artist
plaster cast of life-mask, circa 1820
On display in Room 32 on Floor 1 at the National Portrait Gallery
NPG 2802

William Blake, by James Deville - NPG 1809

William Blake

by James Deville
plaster cast of head, published 1823
On display in Room 32 on Floor 1 at the National Portrait Gallery
NPG 1809

Sir Thomas Lawrence, by Unknown artist - NPG 1634

Sir Thomas Lawrence

by Unknown artist
plaster cast of death-mask, 1830
On display in Room 32 on Floor 1 at the National Portrait Gallery
NPG 1634

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, by D Brucciani & Co - NPG 1699

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

by D Brucciani & Co
plaster cast of head incorporating death-mask, 1882
On display in Room 32 on Floor 1 at the National Portrait Gallery
NPG 1699

Ellen Terry, by Margaret Winser - NPG 3657

Ellen Terry

by Margaret Winser
plaster cast of death-mask, 1928
On display in Room 32 on Floor 1 at the National Portrait Gallery
NPG 3657

Aldous Huxley, by Paul Hamann - NPG 5403

Aldous Huxley

by Paul Hamann
bronze life-mask, 1981, based on a work of 1930
On display in Room 32 on Floor 1 at the National Portrait Gallery
NPG 5403

Susie Cooper, by Susie Cooper - NPG 6375

Susie Cooper

by Susie Cooper
ceramic mask, circa 1933
On display in Room 32 on Floor 1 at the National Portrait Gallery
NPG 6375

Francis Bacon, by Clive Barker - NPG 5844

Francis Bacon

by Clive Barker
gilt bronze mask, 1969
On display in Room 32 on Floor 1 at the National Portrait Gallery
NPG 5844

Tracey Emin ('Death Mask'), by Tracey Emin - NPG 7034

Tracey Emin ('Death Mask')

by Tracey Emin
distressed bronze cast with gold plating, 2002
On display in Room 32 on Floor 1 at the National Portrait Gallery
NPG 7034

'Sleeping Mask' (Gillian Wearing), by Gillian Wearing - NPG L284

'Sleeping Mask' (Gillian Wearing)

by Gillian Wearing
wax reinforced by polymer resin, paint, 2004
On display in Room 32 on Floor 1 at the National Portrait Gallery
NPG L284

Marc Quinn ('Self'), by Marc Quinn - NPG 6863

Marc Quinn ('Self')

by Marc Quinn
blood (artist's), liquid silicone, stainless steel, glass, perspex and refrigeration equipment, 2006
On display in Room 32 on Floor 1 at the National Portrait Gallery
NPG 6863

Shami Chakrabarti, by Gillian Wearing - NPG 6923

Shami Chakrabarti

by Gillian Wearing
gelatin silver print, 2011
On display in Room 32 on Floor 1 at the National Portrait Gallery
NPG 6923

Mask of Shami Chakrabarti, by Gillian Wearing - NPG L291

Mask of Shami Chakrabarti

by Gillian Wearing
wax, paint and glass, 2011
On display in Room 32 on Floor 1 at the National Portrait Gallery
NPG L291

'Mask Masked' (Gillian Wearing), by Gillian Wearing - NPG L290

'Mask Masked' (Gillian Wearing)

by Gillian Wearing
fabric mask, wax sculpture, steel rod and wooden base, 2020
On display in Room 32 on Floor 1 at the National Portrait Gallery
NPG L290