‘Lost’ photos by Paul McCartney to go on show at National Portrait Gallery

Recently rediscovered portraits taken in 60s as Beatles rose to stardom to be focus of exhibition at refurbished NPG

Unseen portraits taken by Paul McCartney in the early 1960s as the Beatles were catapulted to international stardom will go on show at the refurbished National Portrait Gallery in the summer.

McCartney thought the photographs, taken between December 1963 and February 1964, had been lost, but he recently rediscovered them.

The exhibition, Paul McCartney Photographs 1963-64: Eyes of the Storm, “will provide a uniquely personal perspective on what it was like to be a Beatle at the start of Beatlemania,” said Nicholas Cullinan, the NPG’s director.

“The photographs taken in this period captured the very moment that John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr were propelled from being the most popular band in Britain to an international cultural phenomenon, from gigs in Liverpool and London to performing on The Ed Sullivan Show in New York to a television audience of 73 million people.

“At a time when so many camera lenses were on the band, these photographs will share fresh insight into their experiences, all through the eyes of Sir Paul McCartney.”

‘Self-portraits in a mirror’ by Paul McCartney
‘Self-portraits in a mirror’ by Paul McCartney. Photograph: Paul McCartney/The National Portrait Gallery/PA

The Beatles star approached the NPG in 2020, said Cullinan. “He said he’d found these photographs that he remembers taking but thought had been lost. We sat down with him and began going through them. [It was] extraordinary to see these images – which are unseen – of such a well-documented, famous and important cultural moment.

“They’re taken by someone who was really, as the exhibition title alludes, in the eye of the storm looking outside at what was happening.”

McCartney plans to publish a book of the photographs to coincide with his 81st birthday in June. The 275 photos in the collection were taken on a 35mm camera in New York, Washington, London, Liverpool, Miami and Paris.

McCartney’s family includes three celebrated photographers. His first wife, Linda McCartney, was the first woman to shoot a Rolling Stone cover. The couple’s daughter Mary McCartney is an acclaimed photographer and film-maker and his brother Mike has published books of images of the Beatles.

Detail from ‘Vivien Leigh’ by Yevonde (1936, printed 2022-3)
Detail from ‘Vivien Leigh’ by Yevonde (1936, printed 2022-3). Photograph: Yevonde/The National Portrait Gallery/PA

Last year, McCartney published The Lyrics, in which he traced his life story through the lyrics of his songs. The book became a bestseller.

The NPG, a Grade I-listed building in central London that houses the world’s largest collection of portraits, has been closed for a major refurbishment since March 2020. During its closure, it loaned works to galleries and museums all over the world.

The gallery will reopen to the public on 22 June with an exhibition that explores the life and career of Yevonde, the 20th-century photographer who pioneered the use of colour photography in the 1930s. It will include portraits and still life works that the artist produced throughout her 60-year career and will reflect the growing independence of women at that time, while focusing on the freedom photography afforded Yevonde.

In the autumn, the NPG will restage an exhibition, David Hockney: Drawing from Life, that opened just 20 days before the gallery was forced to shut down due to Covid in March 2020. The exhibition explores Hockney’s work over the past six decades through his intimate portraits of five sitters – his mother, Laura Hockney, Celia Birtwell, Gregory Evans, Maurice Payne and the artist himself – in a range of mediums and styles, from pencil, pen and ink and crayon to photographic collage and iPad.

Detail from David Hockney self-portrait
Detail from David Hockney self-portrait. Photograph: Jonathan Wilkinson/The National Portrait Gallery/PA

The 2023 show will also show for the first time new portraits of friends and visitors to the artist’s Normandy studio between 2020 and 2022.

In February 2024, the gallery will mount an exhibition of contemporary African diasporic artists working in the UK and US, curated by the former director of the Institute of Contemporary ArtEkow Eshun.

The Time is Always Now: Artists Reframe the Black Figure will include works by Hurvin Anderson, Michael Armitage, Jordan Casteel, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Noah Davis, Lubaina Himid, Claudette Johnson, Titus Kaphar, Kerry James Marshall, Toyin Ojih Odutola, Nathaniel Mary Quinn, Amy Sherald, Henry Taylor and Barbara Walker.

As well as examining how artists depict the Black form, it will address the absence of Black presence within western art history.

The NPG has unveiled a new logo intended to “better reflect its role as a gallery that is of people, for people, telling the story of Britain’s past, present and future through portraits”, and a redesigned website in advance of its reopening.

Cullinan said: “Our programme of exhibitions for our first year [after reopening] presents some of the world’s best known artists in a fresh light, contains extraordinary and never-before-seen images, uncovers the work of remarkable innovators, charts important cultural terrain and showcases the greatest contemporary portraiture.”

  • Paul McCartney Photographs 1963-64: Eyes of the Storm will run from 28 June to 1 October 2023.
    Yevonde: Life and Colour will run from 22 June to 15 October 2023.
    David Hockney: Drawing from Life will run from 2 November 2023 to 21 January 2024.
    The Time is Always Now: Artists Reframe the Black Figure will run from 22 February to 19 May 2024.


Harriet Sherwood Arts and culture correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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