UK National Portrait Gallery to undergo major makeover

National Portrait Gallery

Proposed North Façade entrance and forecourt. Jamie Fobert Architects. Image by Forbes Massie Studio

LONDON – The National Portrait Gallery has revealed the first images of proposed designs by Jamie Fobert Architects for the gallery’s biggest ever development since the building in St. Martin’s Place, London opened in 1896.

The designs were unveiled as the gallery launched “Make History,” a public appeal to raise funds for the £35.5 million project. The project will result in a significant refurbishment of the building, restoring historic features and creating a new public entrance and forecourt on the building’s North Façade, enhancing the gallery’s visibility and accessibility.

The redevelopment plans also include a complete redisplay and reinterpretation of the gallery’s collection across 40 refurbished galleries, presenting a greater and more diverse selection of portraits; the return of the Gallery’s East Wing to public use, including restoring the original gallery spaces and the creation of new retail and catering facilities; and a new learning center.

In addition to the work at St. Martin’s Place, the project will also see the gallery’s most extensive program of activities nationwide with plans to engage audiences onsite, locally, regionally and online. Activity includes a UK-wide school program for teaching history and art through portraiture, new partnerships with museums and organizations throughout the country, and a national skills-sharing collaboration with other museums and galleries.

The gallery has launched the “Make History” fundraising campaign to help secure funds for the project. Members of the public can support the appeal in several ways including helping to fund new mosaics, which will form part of Jamie Fobert’s design or adopting one of 18 original stone busts on the exterior of the building. The roundels feature the founders of the gallery as well as eminent portrait artists, biographical writers and historians including Hans Holbein the Younger, Sir Anthony van Dyck and Sir Joshua Reynolds.

The proposed new entrance and forecourt on the North Façade of the gallery will allow a more welcoming and generous entrance to the National Portrait Gallery, while also relieving the existing congested visitor access at the main entrance. The eastern set of tripartate windows in the north elevation will be altered to form three doorways leading to a new entrance hall, which links comfortably with the gallery’s Ondaatje Wing Main Hall and will better connect the building.

National Portrait Gallery

Cross Section through galleries, new entrance hall and forecourt. Jamie Fobert Architects image

The proposed forecourt is envisaged to be a civic space of the highest quality designed with the gallery visitor in mind.

The proposal keeps the Gallery’s existing entrance operational, with new step-free access, and less congestion, allowing the building’s original Victorian architecture to be appreciated.

The project provides the unique opportunity to rehang and reinterpret the entire collection as well as upgrade the gallery spaces, celebrating the existing architecture and decorative features. Maintaining a chronological approach, the project will see the first comprehensive top-to-bottom redisplay of the collection from the Tudors to now, displaying works that are relevant to a wider range of audiences and presenting missing or hidden stories from significant moments in British history. Set among the gallery’s best-loved paintings will be more works drawn from its extensive collection of 250,000 photographs, ranging from 1840 to the present day.

The East Wing of the Gallery, part of the original 1896 building, will be reopened to the public as the new Weston Wing. This will include converting what is currently office space back into top-lit galleries on the first floor. The ground floor level will be refurbished providing a flexible gallery and social space with its own dedicated entrance at street level.

The National Portrait Gallery has now secured £27.4m of its £35.5m fundraising target. This includes the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The Gallery aims to reach its target of £35.5m by Spring 2019 to complete the project by 2023. Construction is scheduled to start in summer 2020.