This guest post was written by Bryony Millan, Archivist at the National Portrait Gallery. If you like what you read here, come and meet the team from the Heinz Archive and Library at History Day!


The National Portrait Gallery’s Archive & Library supports staff research, Gallery outputs and institutional memory. Via the Heinz Archive & Library its collections are also open to the public four days a week (Tuesday-Friday). Our department consists of three collection areas: library, archive and a reference collection of portraits. Each are maintained and developed by specialist staff participating in History Day.

NPG Gallery Record

NPG22/1/1 George Scharf and Gallery staff, 1885 (Credit line: © National Portrait Gallery, London)

All of our collections have their origins in the Gallery’s early history, specifically the work of its first Director, Sir George Scharf. Following his appointment in 1857 he set about establishing recordkeeping systems, reference portrait and library collections to assist his work. Over 150 years later we continue to add to these, making us the preeminent centre for the study of British portraiture. Beyond this our archive, library and reference portrait collections can also be used by researchers with diverse interests. Our holdings reflect the wider social and historical contexts through which the collections have grown, from the Victorian era to the present day.

So who are we and what do we do?

The Reference Collection is managed by Curators based in the Archive & Library and consists of over 80,000 portraits. Although the majority are prints the collection also includes drawings, silhouettes, caricatures, paintings miniatures and medallions. This supports the Gallery’s Primary Collection of works for display and broadens understanding of portraiture in general by representing important and lesser known individuals in British history.


NPG D106, Sir Henry Irving as Macbeth by Harry Furniss, after 1875 (Credit line: © National Portrait Gallery, London)

Our Library includes 35,000 books and subscribes to 70 periodicals including many titles essential to the study of art history. Beyond this it boasts a collection of rare books and a complete run of Gallery publications. The Library also subscribes to selected electronic resources which can be accessed by researchers onsite.

The Gallery’s institutional archive reflects its history and core activities from 1856 to the present day, including the acquisition and conservation of Primary Collection portraits, papers of past directors, minutes of key committees and material relating to past buildings and exhibitions. The Gallery has also on occasion acquired archives from external sources, primarily those relating to key portrait artists or art historians in the field of British portraiture.

Staff in the archive and library are constantly cataloguing their collections and placing descriptions online. Further information about accessing our holdings can be found on the Gallery’s website and we look forward to meeting researchers in person at History Day!