SEND Art explainer: what is a portrait?

What is a portrait, and why is every portrait different?

There are lots of different portraits of all sorts of different people in the National Portrait Gallery’s Collection. They were made by artists in all sorts of ways. In this video we look at lots of portraits, small and large, old and new, to explore what a portrait can be.


  • What is a portrait? 

    Portraits can be found all around us. On money, on stickers, on stamps, in our homes, on our screens, and even in toys like this Lego figure of William Shakespeare. 

    A portrait can be an image of a person, or sometimes a group of people. All portraits are different because every person is different. Portraits can be made of different materials or use different techniques or media like photography, sculpture, drawing, digital technology, or even a mixture of materials. 

    Portraits can be bright and colourful, or they can be black and white. Portraits can be playful and dramatic, or they can be serious and thoughtful, and every emotion in between. 

    Portraits can be really big and fill a whole wall, like this one, which is almost nine metres long, nearly as long as a double decker bus. Or they can be tiny like this miniature portrait, which is the size of a 1p coin, and every size in between. 

    Portraits can be hundreds of years old, or they can be more recent. 

    A portrait can be a closeup of a person’s face, or a portrait can be a full-length figure, and sometimes it might not be obvious who is in the portrait or even that it is a portrait at all. 

    The National Portrait Gallery is full of portraits. A lot of them are of people who have done amazing or interesting things. Try exploring the National Portrait Gallery’s Collection and see which one is your favourite. Or why not have a go at making a portrait of someone you think is interesting?

Learning objectives

  1. Investigate what a portrait is and why an artist my choose to make one.
  1. Explore different kinds of portraits in the National Portrait Gallery and all around us.
  1. Be inspired to make a portrait of your own.

Watch and discuss

  1. Can you find any portraits in the room or building you are in?
  1. Have you ever made a portrait? Who was it a portrait of, and how did you make it?
  1. Has anyone ever made your portrait? Who made it and why?