Icons and Idols: Commissioning Contemporary Portraits

Past exhibition archive 
2 March - 18 June 2006

Porter Gallery

Admission Free

Exhibition supported by the Patrons of the National Portrait Gallery

On Tour| Commissioning portraits

From Prince Charles to David Beckham, Icons and Idols: Commissioning Contemporary Portraits explores the activities of the National Portrait Gallery over the past 25 years in commissioning portraits of celebrated individuals for the collection.

The Gallery began commissioning on a regular basis in 1980 and over the succeeding quarter-century has added some 130 commissioned paintings, drawings, sculpture and mixed media works to the collection as well as many photographs. This is a unique record of patronage in the museum world, attracting great public interest and sometimes provoking keen debate. But it is a process not without its risks in marrying artist and sitter to produce an image of public credibility, which should be of enduring value to the Nation. How successful has the Gallery been in adding works to the collection and encouraging the art of portraiture?

This exhibition explores the creation of the portrait from the choice of subject and the selection of artist, through questions of how an image is formulated, exploring problems in making commissions work. It explores the reactions of those involved: sitter and artist, staff and Trustees, and of course the wider public.