Fifty works at National Portrait Gallery are 'coming home'

London gallery sends artworks to towns and cities closely associated with their subjects

William Wilberforce will travel to Hull, Richard III to Leicester, David Hockney to Bradford and Tracey Emin back to her birthplace and teenage stomping ground, Margate, in a National Portrait Gallery project.

The gallery revealed details of an initiative titled Coming Home, in which 50 portraits from the national collection will travel to the towns and cities most closely associated with their subjects.

Sir Thomas Lawrence’s portrait of Wilberforce, the MP who led Britain’s campaign to abolish slavery, will go on display in the city of his birth for the first time, taking up residence in the Ferens Art Gallery in 2019.

The unfinished portrait was one of the first works acquired by the NPG when it was established in 1856 and has always been highly regarded.

Tracey Emin with her portrait Death Mask.
Tracey Emin with her portrait Death Mask. Photograph: Jorge Herrera/National Portrait/PA

Nicholas Cullinan, the director of the NPG, said the project was “unique, inclusive and ambitious”. He added: “We hope that sending portraits ‘home’ in this way will foster a sense of pride and create a personal connection for local communities to a bigger national history … helping us to fulfil our aim of being truly a national gallery for everyone, in our role as the nation’s family album.”

The gallery announced a total of six Coming Home loans on Wednesday with discussions for the remaining ones still taking place.

Emin’s bronze Death Mask, created by the artist in 2002 and acquired by the gallery last year, will be exhibited in Margate Library in Kent, in a partnership with Turner Contemporary, and coincides with the artist’s decision to relocate her studio there.

Other loans are the 16th century portrait of Richard III, heading to Leicester’s New Walk museum and art gallery; Emma Wesley’s portrait of Victoria Cross recipient Johnson Beharry, going to the regimental museum in Dover; Hockney’s Self-Portrait with Charlie, to the Cartwright Hall art gallery in Bradford; and Kate Peters’ photographic portrait of the Olympic heptathlete Jessica Ennis-Hill, loaned to Museums Sheffield.

The initiative was launched at the NPG in London attended by Jeremy Wright, the new culture secretary.

He said: “Every corner of the UK has well-known faces who have played a significant role in our nation’s history. I am delighted that 50 of these famous figures will be returning home so that current generations can be inspired by their stories.

“We are determined to ensure that more of the UK can see some of our world-class art collections, and with thanks to the National Portrait Gallery, Coming Home is an exciting first step in the right direction.”


Mark Brown Arts correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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