The Gallery under attack

In London the portraits that could not be moved were stored in the ‘dug-out’. The basement and ground floor windows were bricked up or sandbagged so that the archive and library collections could remain there in safety. The basement was also used as the headquarters of a government rescue and demolition squad.

Normal Gallery business was suspended. Men of fighting age joined the military. Other staff were moved to administrative roles to support the war effort. Despite this, the Gallery continued to acquire portraits, albeit a very modest number.

Life at the Gallery was even more eventful than at Mentmore. Hake wrote ‘In London the raiders broke a lot of glass and scored two hits on the building. One demolished a staircase seldom used; the other one fell in the courtyard outside my temporary sleeping quarters. There were no casualties.’ By the end of the war the only unbroken windows were those that had been bricked up or sandbagged. As a result of this the Gallery developed a rat problem, with the staff meticulously keeping a list of ‘rats trapped and killed in the Gallery.’

In 1942, in an effort to boost morale, a small part of the Gallery was re-opened to the public. There was an exhibition of portraits recently acquired and a small display of engravings entitled ‘Chief Founders of the Empire’. The Gallery also held exhibitions of art and handicrafts by armed forces personnel. In 1945, with the aid of the National Art Collections Fund, the Gallery acquired an important collection of portraits of members of the Kit Cat Club. These were put on display when the Gallery formally re-opened to the public on 14th July 1945.

Click on images below to enlarge


NPG66/1/7: List of 'rats trapped and killed in the Gallery,' page 1, 1940-1946
© National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

NPG32/29/2: Photograph of members of the armed forces viewing 'South African World War artist' exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery
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