Image: © David Parry
Rupert Hohwieler 18/04/23
National Portrait Gallery | It’s Had a Facelift
The National Portrait Gallery has been out of the picture for way too long.
It’s been three years since we’ve been able to stare at the faces of Britain’s most famous (in painting, photo and sculpture form), but now, after a £35 million spruce-up, one of London’s best art galleries is just about ready to come back.
You have to go all the way back to 1896 (40 years after the building originally opened) to find the last time the gallery underwent any major changes, so although the hiatus may have felt like forever to some, it’s been a long time coming to say the least. You’ll be able to take in all the newness from June 22nd, which is when the National Portrait Gallery will open again to the public. The changes start with the entrance (there’s a new one at the gallery’s north façade), and continue on with a new wing (the Blavatnik Wing) that’s spread across nine galleries on the first floor. Both the East Wing (now Weston Wing) and the forecourt have also been sleekly modernised for today’s art-gazing standards, but at the same time, have also restored historical and decorative elements from the pre-makeover days.
© Forbes Massie
Of course, filling the space will be some 220,000 portraits – the whole collection is now on display thanks to the boost in size – depicting notable Britons from the Tudor age up ‘til the present day. And aside from the free permanent galleries, there’ll also be temporary exhibitions popping up throughout the year. Headlining the reopening will be Paul McCartney, Photographs 1963–64: Eyes of the Storm (28th June – 1st October 2023), a behind-the-scenes, never-before-seen look at the beginning of ‘Beatlemania’ – the period when the band’s popularity snowballed – with photos taken straight from Paul McCartney’s camera.
The other major show with opening honours will be an ode to London’s very own Yevonde Middleton, Yevonde: Life and Colour (22nd June – 15th October 2023), the pioneering artist credited with turning colour photography into a serious artform, and it’ll have all sorts of material from her illustrious 60-year career. Then, rounding out the rest of the year, you’ve got an exhibition from David Hockney (from 2nd November – 21st January), as well as 2023’s edition of the Taylor Wessing Photo Portrait Prize (from 9th November – 25th February).
© David Parry
As merely being an ‘art gallery’ doesn’t quite cut it these days, food, drink and an events programme will all have prominent roles to play in the NPG’s facelift, too. Like its neighbour the National Gallery, expect art after dark (and special events) with weekend hours extending beyond the evenings once the opening frenzy settles down a bit. Then, The Portrait, the aptly-named restaurant with top views over the London skyline, will be back in action with Richard Corrigan (the Irishman behind Bentley’s, Daffodil Mulligan and Dickies Bar) as chef. Audrey Green, meanwhile, a cafe from the Daisy Green group (Scarlett Green, Darcie & May Green etc), will look after the lunchtime/afternoon crowds. And apparently, it’ll tend to those who want to hang around the gallery once it closes as well, as it’ll transition into a ‘sophisticated cocktail bar’ late into the night.
We should have a better picture closer to the time…
NOTE: The National Portrait Gallery will be re-opening on 22nd June 2023. While counting down the days, you can start planning your visit on their website, right here.
The National Portrait Gallery | St. Martin’s Place, London WC2H 0HE
Can’t wait? See what’s on right now at all the art galleries in London…
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