P79YB7 LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - MAY 13 2018: National Portrait Gallery opened in 1856, the world's first portrait gallery, houses a collection historically i
The National Portrait Gallery opened in 1856 © Alamy

The National Portrait Gallery is to shut its doors for three years from June 2020 to allow redevelopment work on its galleries in London.

To offset the closure for the £35.5m revamp, the gallery said it would send 300 of its portraits in each year to institutions across the UK, including York Art Gallery, the Holburne Museum in Bath and the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.

Under the redevelopment in London by Jamie Fobert Architects, which carried out the redesign of Tate St Ives in 2017, a new entrance will be punched through the northern wall of the gallery on St Martin’s Place, offices will be turned into display spaces and the entire collection will be rehung.

The gallery said it would reopen in spring 2023. Nicholas Cullinan, National Portrait Gallery director, said the plan would enable it “to become more welcoming and engaging to all and fulfil our role as the nation’s family album. We are delighted to be able to partner with organisations across the UK and internationally to share our collection to new and existing audiences”.

Proposed North Façade entrance and forecourt. Jamie Fobert Architects / image by Forbes Massie Studio.
The proposed north façade entrance and forecourt © Jamie Fobert Architects

However, the gallery drew criticism for the length of the closure. Bendor Grosvenor, an art historian and broadcaster, tweeted: “The more I think about the NPG closure, the less I understand it. Not least because it’s a fine space, with wonderful galleries. I think you only contemplate a three year closure if you view your audience with contempt.”

The closure would mean staff changes, including some job losses, the gallery said. “Where possible, staff will be offered part-time working and career break opportunities and the gallery is looking at a range of secondment opportunities with other institutions during the building period,” it said, adding it was consulting with unions and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, which provides its main source of funding.

The FDA, a union representing NPG staff, said in a statement that the closure will “inevitably lead to uncertainty, potential redundancies, and other complications for the museum’s staff”.

P1B206 National Portrait Gallery, London.
The National Portrait Gallery has one of the world's finest collections © Alamy

Some galleries have opted to carry out redevelopment work in stages in order to maintain limited public access to their collection. The National Portrait Gallery said it had made the decision to close its doors “in order to complete the project efficiently and to safeguard visitors, members of staff and the collection”.

The gallery has raised £32.7m for the work, close to its target of £35.5m. Big grants have come from the National Lottery Heritage Fund and the Garfield Weston Foundation, with smaller donations from the Wolfson Foundation, Foyle Foundation and the Art Fund.

More than 100 works from the collection will go to Royal Museums Greenwich, for “Tudors to Windsors: British Royal Portraits” an exhibition at the National Maritime Museum in April 2020 looking at 500 years of royal portraiture. The gallery’s cartoon of Henry VIII by Hans Holbein the Younger will also be shown alongside Holbein’s “The Ambassadors”, one of the National Gallery’s treasures, for the first time as part of the touring project.

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