From the NPG website, “Founded in 1856, the aim of the National Portrait Gallery, London is ‘to promote through the medium of portraits the appreciation and understanding of the men and women who have made and are making British history and culture, and … to promote the appreciation and understanding of portraiture in all media’.”
Not just a likeness, portraits tell a story…
I spent most of an hour just in the Tudor room alone. Queen ‘Liz the First had a great wardrobe and I was fascinated by the intimate details of Elizabethan court, brought to life by the many huge paintings. The lady had a lot of “favourite” fellows, as was her prerogative I suppose! Planning a few portrait sketches of my own, I went to study “traditional” portraiture: the seeming standard for 3/4 view, strong contrast between light and shadow. Moreover, what made the portrait more personal than another painting of the same person would be the minute detail showing the sitter’s personality, history or preferences in such things as a hat, a piece of jewellery or something pinned to his or her clothes. Really skilled portraits could pretty much tell the story of someone’s life up to that point.
Moving along into the contemporary section, I discovered Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge staring out at me. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s a very flattering portrait. She looks a bit cringe-y and about 50 years old. Shame about that because she’s, lovely with quite an appealing charisma that doesn’t seem to shine in this picture.
I did, however, quite enjoy a little room of drawings – mostly self-portraits by artists looking in a mirror or by some other unusual means. Like this guy looking up his own nose:
George Caitlin’s American Indian Portraits – history, costume and culture
After checking out the royals and contemporary portraits, I headed downstairs for the George Caitlin American Indian Portraits from the mid-to-late 1800s. The paintings aren’t very skilful – but that’s not the point. Caitlin did his best, at least, to catalogue the history, costume and culture of the people he studied for much of his life. I think the world is forever in his debt for the copious amount of information about Native Americans that he collected – which would otherwise be lost with the tribes.
These pictures made me a bit sad as even today, indigenous peoples are being subjugated, absorbed or wiped out entirely by another group of people – and I worry there is very little work like Caitlin’s to preserve the memory of today’s tribes on the verge of extinction.
- National Portrait Gallery website
- George Caitlin American Indian Paintings
- TripAdvisor’s rating of National Portrait Gallery – around 4.5/5 stars for most visitors
- About Kate Middleton portrait in National Portrait Gallery – unveiled January 2013
Exhibition details: Open 7 days a week, at National Portrait Gallery, St Martin’s Place, London, WC2H 0HE
- George Caitlin American Indian Portraits is on from 7 March 2013 to 27 June 2013, free.
- The Art of Drawing – Portraits from the Collection 1670 – 1780 runs from 19 Oct 2012 to 19 May 2013, room 16, free.