National Portrait Gallery secures £9.4m lottery grant for expansion

London gallery wants to increase exhibition space by 20% with proposal to refurbish east wing offices

The National Portrait Gallery has won a £9.4m heritage lottery grant to help pay for a significant expansion of its exhibition space, by repurposing areas largely used as offices for more than half a century.

The £35.5m project, which will involve a complete redisplay of the entire collection for the first time in its history, is the most ambitious ever undertaken by the London gallery – and the most expensive since the opening of the Ondaatje Wing in 2000.

Annual visitor numbers at the gallery, described by its director Nicholas Cullinan as “the nation’s family album”, have risen since it opened the new wing to more than 2 million. Its special exhibitions routinely sell out, including the Lucian Freud portraits in 2012, and more than 300,000 people visit its annual portrait prize exhibitions.

Cullinan said the gallery was more relevant than ever at a time when understanding the nation’s identity was so crucial. “This major grant enables the biggest transformation the gallery has ever undertaken. We are going to make ourselves an essential place for everyone to feel part of the culture they have been born into, chosen, or are seeking to understand, to become a truly national gallery for all.”

The National Portrait Gallery was the first of its type in the world when it opened in 1856. Forty years later it moved to its present site just off Trafalgar Square, tucked in behind the National Gallery. The awkward corner site gives the gallery the odd angles and puzzling changes of levels that lie behind its handsome facade.

The east wing of the building, where it joins the National Gallery, has occasionally been used for exhibitions, but has mainly been given over to administration and clerical work since the 1960s. The spaces will now be restored to public and gallery use, with clerical staff moving into office space across the road, increasing the exhibition space by 20%. The project will also create full disabled access through the main entrance, and studio and exhibition spaces.

The gallery also plans to increase its education work to engage with more than 300,000 young people, including many not in work or formal education, and partner with museums in cities including Coventry, Manchester, Sheffield and Southampton.

The gallery already has pledges of a further £7m, and will appoint an architect this autumn. It hopes to reach its fundraising target by March 2019 and complete the project by 2022.


Maev Kennedy

The GuardianTramp

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