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

Painting the Century

Past exhibition archive
26 October 2000 - 4 February 2001

Ground Floor Galleries

Admission £5 Concessions £3

Eric Cantona painting

The Art of the Game
by Michael J. Browne, 1997
© Michael J. Browne/Eric Cantona

Sponsored by
Provident Financial logo

Painting the Century brings together 101 major portraits, loaned from collections around the world, in what is probably the most ambitious exhibition being mounted in London to celebrate the new millennium.

For every year of the twentieth century, the exhibition displays one portrait, painted in that year, by artists of the stature of Munch, Picasso, Beckmann, Grosz, Bacon, Warhol and Freud. Sitters as diverse as Lenin, Elvis Presley, Margaret Thatcher and David Bowie are seen in the context of a comprehensive chronology of the history and culture of our times.

As well as major works by outstanding painters of the century, such as Schiele, Hockney, Sutherland, the German Neue Sachlichkeit painters and American realists and photo-realists, the exhibition also includes a number of popular works by lesser-known artists such as Tamara de Lempicka's 1925 Autoportrait (in the green Bugatti) and CW Furse's Diana of the Uplands (1903/4).

Each portrait has been chosen for its artistic, cultural or historical significance at the time, and for its relevance to works in adjacent years. The exhibition, divided into ten decades, will provide not only a wide-ranging view of some of the cultural and historical milestones of an unsettled era, but will also reflect the extraordinary revolutions and the survival of traditional modes which have characterised the art of the last century.

The exhibition is organised and selected by Robin Gibson, Chief Curator at the National Portrait Gallery.


The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue, published in October 2000, including an essay by Norbert Lynton, chronology and information on each painting. 256 pages with 100 colour and 25 black and white illustrations. Hardback £30, paperback £20.



Gallery blog

Read our latest news and have your say.

Join the conversation

Tell us More about our silhouettes, photograph of Hubert Leslie, Silhouettist

Identify our Silhouettes

Join enthusiastic contributors who have already identified 155 sitters.

Help transcribe signatures

Tell us More about our Silvy sitters, photograph of Camille Silvy, photographer with boy

Tell us more about our Silvy sitters

Help us identify the sitters who visited Camille Silvy’s photographic studio during the 1860s.

Identify our sitters