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British portraits records

Heinz Archive and Library opening hours
Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 10.00 to 17.00 by appointment only

020 7321 6617 (Type Talk: 18001)
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National Portrait Gallery
St Martin's Place
London WC2H 0HE

The National Portrait Gallery’s Heinz Archive and Library holds over 1 million records of British portraits held in public and private collections worldwide. The Gallery began recording portraits from its foundation in 1856 and the present filing systems date back to the beginning of the 20th century.

The Archive and Library continues to record and track British portraits by scanning sales catalogues from the major auction houses, indexing books and periodicals that come into the library, retaining correspondence addressed to the Gallery concerning portraits, receiving information from surveys such as the Kent Portrait Survey and Church Monuments Record, and acquiring photographic reproductions of portraits. Approximately 15,000 new records are added every year.

In addition to recording the existence of portraits and tracking their whereabouts, these resources can be used to identify further sources of information about specific portraits. They include:

  • sitter boxes (including auction catalogue illustrations, engravings, photographs, and other reproductions of portraits) arranged alphabetically by name of sitter.
  • artist boxes (including auction catalogue illustrations, engravings, photographs, and other reproductions of portraits), divided by medium, subdivided into quarter-century and arranged alphabetically by name of artist. The existence (but not specific contents) of artist files can be determined by searching an individual artist’s name as a title in the library catalogue.
  • costume boxes containing images of portraits arranged chronologically by decade.
  • ‘types’ boxes arranged by type of portrait, including professions (e.g. legal, military, political) and subject s (e.g. allegorical, children, family groups). The existence (but not specific contents) of subject files can be determined by searching a topic as a title in the library catalogue.
  • an index of British portraits, arranged alphabetically by sitter name, containing references to portraits either illustrated or recorded in publications held by the Library or available elsewhere. Since January 2011, portraits have been indexed in a database available within the Archive and Library.

These materials are kept on open access in the Archive and Library’s Public Study Room and are available for general reference.

Except where specified above, these resources are not available electronically at the present time. However, it remains an ambition of the Gallery to migrate its records to digital formats and to facilitate remote access to its recording activities, as components of a Portrait Finder that will provide online access to these extensive collections and to related materials held elsewhere

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