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’. The Gallery aims to bring history to life through its extensive display, exhibition, research, learning, outreach, publishing and digital programmes. These allow us to stimulate debate and to address questions of biography, diversity and fame which lie at the heart of issues of identity and achievement. The National Portrait Gallery aims to be the foremost centre for the study of and research into portraiture, as well as making its work and activities of interest to as wide a range of visitors as possible.

The Gallery’s research programmes support its mission as described above.  As such its major research areas are history, biography and the history of art and photography from the sixteenth century to the present day. This interdisciplinary approach is conducted both through research on the Gallery’s own collections and through fostering research into the broader field of portraiture. 

Collections-based research programmes include the Gallery’s commitment to a continuation of detailed catalogues together with comprehensive iconographies of those represented in the Collection.   Its fellowship programmes, funded by The Leverhulme Trust, follow a long-standing commitment to encourage and assist the work of scholars from outside the Gallery.  It also supports research into its subject area through its Archive and Library, through online resources such as British painters and artists’ suppliers, and through the Gallery’s Understanding British Portraiture subject specialisation network. The Gallery also embarks on large-scale one off projects, often working in partnership with others.   Examples include our research for the ten thousand portrait images in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography and Making Art in Tudor Britain.


The Gallery works with a wide range of individuals and organisations both as collaborators on research programmes and as funding partners.  These include one-off collaborations with scholars involved in curating exhibitions, contributing to the Gallery’s publications and learning programme, and institutional collaborations such as our work with the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.  

The Gallery has working relationships with higher education institutions in the teaching of courses and the presentation of academic conferences.  Recent and current collaborators include the Central School of Speech and Drama, the Courtauld Institute of Art, the Institute of Historical Research, King’s College London, Queen Mary College, the Royal College of Art, the University of Bristol, the University of Sussex, the University of York and the University of Westminster. The Gallery is also a member of the Consortium for the Humanities and the Arts South-East England Doctoral Training Partnership. It has also contributed to projects such as the AHRC Early British Printed Images project based at Birkbeck College, the British Cartoon Forum and the Public Catalogue Foundation and supported independent projects such as the de László catalogue project and the Oxford Portraits project. Major funding partners of recent years include The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, the Marc Fitch Fund, the John S Cohen Foundation, The Aurelius Charitable Trust, The Mercer’s Company, and the Walgreens Boots Alliance.

The Gallery leads the Understanding British Portraits network in partnership with the National Trust, the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums, and Bristol Museums, Galleries and Archives. The network encourages skills-sharing among curatorial and learning professionals working with British portraits, and British portrait collections. Its range of activities include a programme of seminars and tours of private collections, annual bursaries, collection and expertise mapping, and online resources.