Hacking the National Portrait Gallery in 20 Minutes (or less)

The National Portrait Gallery sits just around the corner from the bigger National Gallery in Trafalgar Square. It was the world’s first portrait gallery when it opened in 1856 and is home to portraits of historically important and famous British people.

I’ll admit – I’m not good at galleries. I arrive then almost immediately want to leave. Perhaps its the serious atmosphere and feeling of having to study every single artwork. Perhaps I’d rather be sipping a latte in the gallery cafe.

So when I landed on the doorstep of the Portrait Gallery yesterday afternoon, it was time to put my tried and tested anti-gallery-boredom method into action – “Gallery Hacking“.

Gallery Hacking lets you soak up the essence of an art gallery and the artworks in a bite sized period of time. It employs all or any of the following methods:

  • Moving around very, very quickly, almost at a jog, stopping only to gaze at artworks that attract me for about 20 seconds or less
  • Not reading the descriptions on the labels at all – I take photos that I can look at later
  • Moving around the artworks in completely random order, allowing myself to be drawn by whatever catches my eye
  • Creating my own soundtrack by listening to music – I read someone else saying this some time ago and it works great
  • Setting myself a mission, such as to compile a list of my top 5 artworks or to find and sketch my favorite piece
  • Setting a deadline for getting out of the gallery eg in 20-30 minutes. Knowing your time is limited makes you better appreciate the time you have

To hack the National Portrait Gallery I gave myself 20 minutes to find and document my 5 favorite artworks. Here are the winners (in no particular order):

1. PETER COCHRANE 1913-2004, By Howard Hodgkin b. 1932, Oil on canvas, 1962

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I was drawn to the deceptive simplicity of this portrait. The sitter doesn’t seem to be trying to be anything more than he is.

2. DIANA PRINCESS OF WALES 1961-97, By Mario Testino b. 1954, Bromide print, 1997

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The natural beauty and openness radiating out of this photo is stunning.

3. ALFRED BRENDAL b. 1931, By Tony Bevan b. 1951, Oil on canvas, 2005

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At first I mistook this portrait for the actor Michael Caine! The expressive colors and brushwork put a huge grin on my face.

4. KING CHARLES II b. 1630-85, Attributed to Thomas Hawker d.c. 1722, Oil on canvas, c. 1680

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Such confidence! Could he have sat with his legs any wider?

5. QUEEN VICTORIA 1819-1901, By Sir Francis Chantrey 1781-1841, Marble bust, 1841

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I was completely mesmerized by the beauty of this sculpture and the artist’s skill.

National Portrait Gallery
St. Martin’s Pl, London WC2H 0HE


Do you have any Gallery Hacking techniques of your own? Share them in the comments.

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