Searching for Shakespeare
Past exhibition archive
2 March - 29 May 2006
Admission £8 / £5.25
In 1856 the first portrait presented to the newly-founded National Portrait Gallery was a compelling painting considered to be of William Shakespeare, known as the "Chandos" portrait. At this date Shakespeare's appearance had been a matter of national interest for around two centuries. Yet the identity of this picture is still considered unproven and today we have no certain lifetime portrait of England's most famous poet and playwright. On the occasion of the National Portrait Gallery's 150th anniversary in 2006, an exhibition on the biography and portraiture will be staged at the Gallery.
Alongside the Chandos portrait, five other "contender" portraits purporting to represent Shakespeare will be displayed together for the first time. The exhibition will present the results of new technical analysis and research on several of these pictures casting new light on the search for Shakespeare's authentic appearance. Shakespeare's life can only be partially reconstructed, but this exhibition will also attempt to search for the Shakespeare his contemporaries knew by looking closely at his own circle. The exhibition will bring together original documents relating to Shakespeare's life and portraits of his contemporaries including actors, patrons and other playwrights, in order to place the poet not in our historical imagination, but within his own time.
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Artist and sitter interviews
Get insights into creating portraiture from BP Portrait Award 2020 artists and their sitters.
Watch our film created to say ‘goodbye’ to the Gallery before we closed for our major transformation project.
- King Richard II (NPG 565)
- Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford (NPG L111)
- Francis Bacon, 1st Viscount St Alban (NPG 6761)
- Queen Elizabeth I (NPG 2471)
- Sir Walter Ralegh (Raleigh) (NPG 4106)
- Mary Herbert, Countess of Pembroke (NPG 5994)
- John Donne (NPG 6790)
- Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex (NPG 180)
- Michael Drayton (NPG 776)
- William Shakespeare (NPG 1)
- Princess Elizabeth, Queen of Bohemia and Electress Palatine (NPG 5529)
- Benjamin ('Ben') Jonson (NPG 2752)
- William Shakespeare (NPG 1735)
- Anne of Denmark (NPG 4656)
- George Chapman (NPG D2941)
- Anne of Denmark
- George Chapman
- John Donne
- Michael Drayton
- Queen Elizabeth I
- Princess Elizabeth, Queen of Bohemia and Electress Palatine
- Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex
- Benjamin ('Ben') Jonson
- Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford
- Mary Herbert, Countess of Pembroke
- Sir Walter Ralegh
- King Richard II
- William Shakespeare
- Francis Bacon, 1st Viscount St Alban