Peter Funnell

Ruth Brimacombe

Head of Research and Senior Curator

Job Description

I became Head of Research and Senior Curator in 2016 having previously combined leading research programmes at the Gallery with my role as Curator of Nineteenth-Century Portraits. In my current position I am responsible for co-ordinating and promoting research at the Gallery and also have overall management responsibility for the Heinz Archive and Library. I am the Gallery’s main point of liaison with research institutions such as universities and funding bodies like the Arts and Humanities Research Council. As Senior Curator I am also responsible for curating and managing temporary exhibitions and recently worked with John Elderfield and others on Cézanne Portraits.


I studied English and the History of Art at University College London and took a doctorate in the History of Art at Oxford University. I had a year-long fellowship at the Yale Center for British Art and worked in the United States on a major exhibition and educational project on William Wordsworth and English Romanticism in the mid-1980s. After two years teaching back in the United Kingdom I joined the National Portrait Gallery in 1990 where, along with my other curatorial and research work, I directed the research of 10,000 portrait illustrations for the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.  I am a member of a number of outside advisory committees and became a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society in 2011.  

Research Interests

My doctoral thesis was on the connoisseur, collector and theorist Richard Payne Knight and I continue to be interested in British art theory and the London art world in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries,  Since joining the Gallery I have specialised in nineteenth-century portraiture across all media and have published and lectured on the representation of masculinity in British portraiture. Other research areas include the history of museum display and I am becoming increasingly interested in art and the British Empire.

Recent Publications

Recent publications include ‘The National Portrait Gallery: an historical introduction’ in From Elizabeth to Victoria, with Tatiana Karpova, State Tretyakov Museum, Moscow, 2016, ‘Frank Holl: Portraits and the “Modern Englishman”’ in Frank Holl: Emerging from the Shadows, with Mark Bills et al, Philip Wilson Publishers, 2013, Thomas Lawrence: Regency Power and Brilliance, with A Cassandra Albinson and Lucy Peltz, Yale University Press, 2010 and ‘Portraits, Power and Gender’ in Portraits and Power, People, Politics and Structures, Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi, Firenze, 2010, accompanying a contemporary art exhibition for which I was an advisor and selector. In 2011 I co-authored the Gallery’s Guide to Victorian & Edwardian Portraits with Jan Marsh.

Selected Publications