London's Top 10 : National Portrait Gallery

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This is one of the most unexpectedly pleasing galleries in London. Unrelated to the neighbouring National Gallery, it opened in 1856. Well-known names can be put to some not-so-well-known faces, and there are some fascinating paintings from Tudor times to the present day. Royalty is depicted from Richard II (1367–1400) to Queen Elizabeth II, and the collection also holds a 1554 miniature, the oldest self-portrait in oils in England. The displays are changed regularly so paintings from the collection are not always on view.

  • St Martin’s Place WC2

  • 020 7312 2463


  • Open 10am–6pm Sat–Wed, 10am–9pm Thu–Fri

  • Free (separate charge for some exhibitions)

Gallery Guide

The gallery’s three floors are arranged chronologically. Take the escalator to the second floor and start with the Tudor and Stuart galleries (1–8). Men and women of arts, science and industry from the 18th and early 19th century are in galleries 9 to 20. The first floor has eminent Victorians and early photographs. The balcony and ground-floor galleries have 20th- and 21st-century works.

The Portrait Restaurant has great views across Trafalgar Square, down Whitehall to Parliament.

The Gallery bookshop stocks fashion, costume, history and biography titles.

The ground-floor gift shop has good postcards.

Free concerts at 6:30pm on Fridays, and lectures at 7pm on Thursdays.

Top 10 Portraits
  1. Queen Elizabeth I

    This anonymous portrait is one of several of Elizabeth I, who presided over England’s Renaissance (1533–1603). The Tudor rooms are the most satisfying in the gallery, and they contain two cases of miniature paintings, a popular genre of the time.

  2. William Shakespeare

    This is the only portrait of Britain’s famous playwright known with certainty to have been painted during his lifetime (1564–1616).

  3. The Brontës

    Found in a drawer in 1914, this portrait of the great literary sisters, Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë, from Yorkshire, was painted by their brother, Branwell. He appears as a faint image behind them.

  4. The Whitehall Mural

    This cartoon of Henry VII and his son Henry VIII by Hans Holbein (1537) was drawn for a large mural in the Palace of Whitehall, lost when the palace burnt down in 1698.

  5. George Gordon, 6th Lord Byron

    This painting of Lord Byron (1788–1824), by Thomas Phillips, depicts the poet and champion of liberty in Albanian dress. He died fighting with Greek insurgents against the Turks.

  6. Horatio Nelson

    This 1799 portrait by Guy Head depicts Nelson after the Battle of the Nile. Apart from Queen Victoria and the Duke of Wellington, he was painted more often than any other British figure in history.

  7. Alfred Lord Tennyson

    This picture of the poet laureate is by one of the pioneers of photography, Julia Margaret Cameron (1815–79). She was given a camera at the age of 48 and was noted for her memorable portraits of Tennyson, the naturalist Charles Darwin and the essayist Thomas Carlyle.

  8. The Beatles

    Photographic portraits took on a new lease of life in the 1960s, when photographers themselves became stars. Norman Parkinson, who took this picture of the Beatles, was one of Vogue’s favourite fashion photographers.

  9. Germaine Greer

    The feminist author of The Female Eunuch is brilliantly captured by Portuguese artist Paula Rego, the first artist-in-residence at the National Gallery.

  10. Margaret Thatcher

    Today’s famous are more likely to sit for a photographer than a painter. This revealing portrait of the former British prime minister by Helmut Newton allows you to study her in a way you would never dare in real life.

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