How your family photo can end up in the National Portrait Gallery

For 166 years, the National Portrait Gallery has exhibited paintings of Britain’s most important people, from Henry VIII to James Cook to Winston Churchill. They could now be joined by family photos of ordinary Britons.

The gallery, which is currently closed for a three-year, multi-million pound refurbishment, invites members of the public to rummage through old portraits lying around the house and submit them to the national family album.

The NPG wants to show the diversity of modern Britain and present ‘undiscovered portraits of ordinary Britons’.

Entrants can submit up to three images intended to represent “what family means to them”.

They should include the story behind the image to explain its meaning.

Applications must be submitted by June 30.

A shortlist will then be compiled by a panel that will include a celebrity photographer who has yet to be announced, NPG chief curator Dr. Alison Smith, and family history expert Simon Pearce of Ancestry.

Images will be selected based on their ability to encapsulate the Nation’s Family Album themes: belonging, heritage, connection and identity.

The winning works will then be exhibited at the gallery, although curators have yet to decide whether they will be in physical or digital format.

Ordinary people and family stories

The project is in collaboration with Ancestry, the family genealogy society, which has digitized more than 125,000 portraits held by the NPG. They will be available on the Ancestry website.

Dr Smith said: ‘The National Portrait Gallery is home to the largest collection of portraits in the world, and although many are familiar with our most famous faces, we are proud to also hold many portraits of men, women and children from all walks of life. life.

“By making 125,000 portraits from the 1500s to the present day available on Ancestry, people will be able to explore the history of those depicted in our collection.”

By closely examining family photos, such as those of veterans or people at work, family historians may be able to uncover new clues about their ancestors’ backgrounds, according to the society.

The portraits date from 1547 to 2018 and include the royal family and national icons like playwright William Shakespeare, theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, naturalist Sir David Attenborough and Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai.

Less famous faces include Lydia Dorothea Benoly, the first female mayor of Bethnal Green in London’s East End, and Mairi Chisholm, a Scottish nurse and motorcycle ambulance driver during World War I.

‘A picture is worth a thousand words’

Mr Pearce said: ‘The saying ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ is particularly relevant when researching your family history.

“Portraits can reveal what our family members looked like, how they lived, and even certain personality traits.

“That’s why we’re delighted to be working with the National Portrait Gallery to provide wider access to some of its captivating and historically rich collection.”

This is the second time the gallery has called for public submissions, but the first time they will be exhibited within its walls.

In May and June 2020, the NPG asked the public to submit portraits for its Hold Still project, to document life during the pandemic.

Unlike the National Family Album, these images had to have been taken during this specific time period. The 100 shortlisted portraits viewable online were placed on notice boards across the country.

The NPG is closed until 2023 as it undergoes the most extensive refurbishment since moving to its current premises on St Martin’s Lane in 1896.

It will run for three years and cost £35.5million.

The gallery is expected to reopen in the spring of 2021, with work having begun in June 2020.

While the NPG remains closed, its collection is on display across Britain in a series of events.

Julia P. Cluff