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What Is the National Portrait Gallery, London?

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  • Written By: B. Koch
  • Edited By: Susan Barwick
  • Last Modified Date: 23 June 2014
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The National Portrait Gallery in London is an art museum devoted entirely to portraits of significant historical and cultural figures. The mission of the museum is to encourage the understanding and appreciation of both the figures in the portraits as well as the practice of portraiture itself. the museum was established in the year 1865 but did not gain a permanent home until the year 1889. Admission is free to all visitors, except for certain special events and exhibits.

Objects in the National Portrait Gallery are carefully chosen. The focus of the collection is historical rather than artistic, so paintings paintings are not sought on the basis on the status, fame, or popularity of the artist but on the significance of the portrait's subject. Generally, portraits are chosen based on the historical and cultural significance of the sitter, especially if this individual has had a significant impact on the United Kingdom.

The establishment of a National Portrait Gallery was due to the work of Philip Stanhope. Stanhope was a historian who was interested in creating visual documentation of significant figures from the United Kingdom. In 1865, after he was appointed to the House of Lords, Stanhope requested the funds to begin a National Portrait Gallery. The House agreed and gave £2,000 British Pounds (GBP) for its establishment.

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Between the time of its formation and the year 1889, the collection did not have a permanent home. It resided in a number of places, including private homes and other museums. This was a difficult situation as some of the spaces used for the collection were not appropriate, and the portraits were sometimes threatened by fire and damaged by flooding during this time. In the year 1889, William Henry Alexander gave enough money for a permanent home to be built for the collection. The National Portrait Gallery still stands in this place today, although many additions have been made to the original structure.

This museum has no entrance fee, and is always free to visitors, which means that the museum must be funded in ways that do not include entrance revenue. Special events or exhibits sometimes require an entrance ticket, and profits from the gift shop as well as the cafeteria also go back to the museum. Although these profits are helpful, most of the money that runs the museum comes from the government, trusts, endowments, and personal donations.

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