Hold Still: Explore our Collection
For 164 years, the National Portrait Gallery has existed to tell the stories of the people of Britain through portraits and you can explore over 150,000 images on this website. It is now more important than ever that we find ways to document and share our individual and collective experiences and the Hold Still project will provide us with an important record of these unprecedented times.
Inspired by your photographs, we have selected some portraits from our Collection, which reflect some of the subjects and themes we have seen in the entries.
Helpers and Heroes
The Clap for Carers, which has taken place during the lockdown period and features in many Hold Still entries, has shown the gratitude felt for those working in the medical and care sectors. Mary Seacole travelled to the Crimean War in 1854 on her own initiative, where she provided food and drink to the military and administered first aid and medicine to the sick and wounded. Her story embodies the commitment and courage of those working to help people who are suffering during the current crisis.
Throughout the pandemic people across the UK have shown their appreciation for the National Health Service and its staff. Many of the Hold Still entries show signs and posters emblazoned with the letters ‘NHS’. As Minister for Health and Housing from 1945-51, ‘Nye' Bevan oversaw the implementation of free medical treatment for all. Here he is pictured at home surrounded by his family, another theme that has been a popular with those who have entered the Hold Still project.
Lance Corporal Johnson Beharry is the first living British person since 1965 to be awarded the Victoria Cross for valour. He was posted to Iraq in 2004, where he twice saved members of his unit from ambushes. His heroic actions saved the lives of thirty soldiers while under enemy fire. This selfless bravery evokes the spirit of the keyworkers who have put their own health at risk to help others and keep the country going during the pandemic.
Acts of kindness
Millicent Garrett Fawcett was a prominent campaigner for women's equality. Her husband, Henry Fawcett, who was blinded in an accident in 1858, was the first blind person to be elected to Parliament. In this intimate portrait of the couple by Madox Brown, they are seen close together and he appears to be dictating to her. The image is reminiscent of the many small acts of kindness which have been recorded by the Hold Still project.
Many Hold Still entries have been portraits of nurses. In this painting, probably the most famous nurse in British history, Florence Nightingale, is seen administering help to sick and wounded soldiers outside the Barrack Hospital at Scutari during the Crimean War. In the image Nightingale takes centre stage but she is surrounded by others, including civilian nurses, nursing sisters, military medical officers, local people and the hospital chef. This emphasises both the importance of the nursing profession but also the multiple acts of compassion which support their work.
This painting by Sarah Raphael is of Chad Varah, who founded the telephone counselling organisation the Samaritans in 1953, after his work as a vicar led him to recognise the problems caused by social isolation. The charity now has 200 branches and over 20,000 volunteers. Mental health issues, feelings of disconnection and those volunteering to help others are the subject of many of the Hold Still entries.
Your new normal
Many of the entries to the Hold Still project have illustrated the experience of staying home and being distanced from the outside world by photographing people looking out of or seeing others through glass. This is echoed in the composition of this photograph of Baroness Scotland of Asthal by Anita Corbin, looking thoughtfully out of a window in the House of Lords in 2011.
This photograph of illustrator Peggy Prendeville and her daughter taken in 1992 by Gered Mankowitz, reflects the experience of many parents and carers juggling home schooling and home working. The image shows a mother and daughter spending time together in their busy home environment in a room which contains both toys and a desk.
Coronavirus has caused much sadness and grief for those affected and this has been seen in some of the very moving Hold Still submissions. This photograph of Manic Street Preachers band members, Richie Edwards and Nicky Wire taken in 1993, represents these emotions in a touching image of two people embracing each other in a graveyard. It is made more poignant by the knowledge that Edwards went missing two years later.
This project is being supported by international law firm Taylor Wessing, long-time sponsor of the National Portrait Gallery.