The National Portrait Gallery’s Heinz Archive and Library holds over 1 million records of British portraits held in public and private collections worldwide. The Gallery began recording portraits from its foundation in 1856 and the present filing systems date back to the beginning of the 20th century. The Archive and Library continues to record and track British portraits, and approximately 15,000 new records are added every year.
The Reference Collection is held in the Archive and Library and contains more than 80,000 portraits of important and lesser known figures in British history. The majority of these portraits are prints, but the collection also includes drawings, silhouettes, caricatures, paintings, miniatures, medallions and related items.
The National Portrait Gallery's Collected Archives comprises archive material that has been acquired by the Gallery from external sources because of its relevance to the study of British portraiture. The papers document the existence and provenance of portraits in external collections. They may also relate to portraits in the Gallery's own Collection. Visitors may consult these resources in the Archive and Library Public Study Room, by appointment. The collected archives include the following types of materials: artists’ papers including diaries, account books, studio ledgers, sitter books and correspondence; papers of art historians in the field of British portraiture; correspondence of artists and their sitters; albums of autographs assembled by collectors.
The Gallery Records contain material relating to the Gallery's activities since its foundation in 1856. The records document the history, development and activities of the Gallery, including: the history and provenance of works of art in the Gallery's Collections; the management of portraits in the Collections, including acquisition, display, conservation, and research; the organisation of exhibitions; the development of the building; the development of public access and education programmes; the development of Gallery policy in all areas of business. The Archive recently embarked on a major cataloguing programme. To date approximately 20,000 records (about one third of the Gallery's archival records) have been catalogued. The catalogue is available to view online. Records will continue to be added on a regular basis.