In 1969, under the directorship of Sir Roy Strong, the National Portrait Gallery began to collect contemporary portraits. The Contemporary Collection now numbers over 250 works in a range of media. This display demonstrates the breadth of the Gallery’s holdings.
The contemporary portrait exists apart from the swell of media images. In addition to capturing an individual likeness, contemporary portraits raise questions relating to identity, class, race and gender. Portraits may describe a cultural moment or suggest the personality and psychology of a subject.
Since the revival of figuration in the 1980s, artists have addressed portraiture in new ways, expanding and invigorating the genre. In the 1990s, a conceptual approach such as that taken by the ‘Young British Artists’ focused on ideas relating to selfhood and contemporary experience. In the last decade, developing styles of painting, photography and sculpture have been accompanied by new, ambitious approaches in presentation, often motivated by or using new media technologies.