The Gallery holds the most extensive collection of portraits in the world. Search over 215,000 works, 150,000 of which are illustrated from the 16th Century to the present day.

Advanced Collection search

Commissioning Photographs 1917-1970

Past display archive
23 January - 4 June 2006

Room 31 & Bookshop Gallery


David Hockney
by Godfrey Argent
29 May 1969
NPG x127780

Before the National Portrait Gallery began to display photographs in the 1970s, a remarkable collection of over 10,000 photographic portraits was created documenting leading figures in British society from World War One up until the 'Swinging Sixties'. This display highlights these and features works by the three National Photographic Record photographers, Walter Stoneman, Walter Bird and Godfrey Argent.

The National Photographic Record was started in 1917 during the first World War at the instigation of Walter Stoneman, the chief photographer for the long established firm of Russell & Sons. A selected range of eminent people of the day were invited to make an appointment to sit at Stoneman's studio and from each sitting a mounted print was added to the NPR. The collection was for record purposes only with no intention of the results being exhibited.

Despite controversy caused by working exclusively with one selected photographer the collection of postcard-sized prints of eminent people of the day grew over the years to an archive of over 10,000 subjects. Each year approximately 200 new subjects were added to an alphabetical sequence now housed in 436 boxes and viewable by appointment. Stoneman was succeeded on his retirement by Walter Bird (active 1958-1967) and then by Godfrey Argent (active 1967-1970).

- National Photographic Record holdings at the National Portrait Gallery
- List of subjects commissioned - 1917-1970
- Exhibition of the work of Godfrey Argent for the National Photographic Record, 1971

© National Portrait Gallery, London



Pioneer Podcasts

Listen to a series of podcasts exploring the lives of pioneering women, past and present.

Explore the podcasts

Untitled, c.1973 (Alex Chilton) by William Eggleston © Eggleston Artistic Trust

Eggleston Playlist

William Eggleston was closely associated with the alternative music scene in Memphis. Revisit our 2016 exhibition and listen to a special playlist.

Listen to the playlist

Archive interviews

Links to audio and transcripts of interviews with artists, sitters and historic recordings.

Watch, listen and read