Today, the National Portrait Gallery has revealed its forward programme of exhibitions for 2024. Spanning six centuries of portraiture, the varied programme features anticipated exhibitions, including The Time is Always Now: Artists Reframe the Black Figure and Francesca Woodman and Julia Margaret Cameron: Portraits to Dream In, alongside exhibitions exploring the lives of Henry VIII’s six wives and portraiture by Francis Bacon. 2024 will also see the return of the Gallery’s ever-popular painting competition, the Herbert Smith Freehills Portrait Award, and the seventeenth annual Taylor Wessing Photo Portrait Prize.
The Time is Always Now: Artists Reframe the Black Figure 22nd February – 19th May 2024
The first exhibition of the 2024 programme is a major survey of African diasporic artists working in the UK and America, whose work in painting and drawing foregrounds the Black figure. Supported by Bank of America, The Time is Always Now: Artists Reframe the Black Figure (22 February – 19 May 2024) will showcase 22 contemporary artists, featuring work from the year 2000 onwards. Curated by Ekow Eshun – former Director of the Institute of Contemporary Arts – and celebrating artists who work with figuration as a means of illuminating the richness and complexity of Black life, this exhibition will consider how artists depict the Black form, both against a social backdrop of high cultural visibility and continued social vulnerability, as well as to address the absence of Black presence within Western art history. Within this context, exhibited portraits will examine the aesthetic, psychological and political considerations involved in representing blackness.
The exhibition catalogue, The Time is Always Now: Artists Reframe the Black Figure by Ekow Eshun, includes contributions and essays from Man Booker Prize winning author, Bernardine Evaristo; Scotiabank Giller Prize winning novelist, Esi Edugyan; and art historian, Professor Dorothy Price. The exhibition will also be accompanied by the publication Reframing the Black Figure: An Introduction to Contemporary Black Figuration by Ekow Eshun.
Francesca Woodman and Julia Margaret Cameron: Portraits to Dream In 21st March – 16th June 2024
This innovative exhibition will juxtapose the lives and work of two of the most important and influential practitioners in the history of photography. Showcasing more than 150 rare vintage prints, the exhibition will span the entire career of Francesca Woodman and Julia Margaret Cameron – who worked 100 years apart – and include examples of both their best known and less familiar work. In ways that tantalisingly intersect and diverge, portraiture was fundamentally important to the artistic project of both women. This exhibition will explore the idea that Woodman and Cameron share an engagement with portraiture as a ‘dream space.’ The title makes reference to the idea that these photographic portraits are not intended to mimic reality, but conjure notions of imagination, beauty, symbolism, transformation and storytelling. Considering both artists in a different light, Francesca Woodman and Julia Margaret Cameron: Portraits to Dream In will propose new ways of appreciating and thinking about the artists, portraiture and the relationships between 19th and 20th-century photographic practices.
The exhibition will be accompanied by a catalogue, Francesca Woodman and Julia Margaret Cameron: Portraits to Dream In by curator Magdalene Keaney, including essays and contributions from the curator of the Woodman Family Foundation, Katarina Jerinic, and leading photography historian, Helen Ennis.
Six Lives: The Stories of Henry VIII’s Queens, 20th June – 8th September 2024
Historic paintings by Hans Holbein and contemporary photography by Hiroshi Sugimoto meet in the National Portrait Gallery’s first exhibition of historic portraiture since reopening, presenting a study of the lives and afterlives of the six women who married Henry VIII. The exhibition will chronicle the representation of Katherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Katherine Howard and Katherine Parr throughout history and popular culture in the centuries since they lived. As a frequent source of fascination, the story of the six women has repeatedly inspired writers and artists of all kinds to attempt to uncover the ‘truth’ of their lives: their characters, their appearance and their relationships. From historic paintings, drawings and ephemera, to contemporary photography, costume and film, Six Lives: The Stories of Henry VIII’s Queens draws upon a wealth of factual and fictional materials to present the life, legacy and portrayal of six women who forever changed the landscape of English history.
The accompanying publication Six Lives: The Stories of Henry VIII’s Queens, written by curator Dr. Charlotte Bolland, includes essays from award-winning historian and broadcaster, Professor Suzannah Lipscomb; early modern historian, Dr. Nicola Clark; art historian and curator at Historic Royal Palaces, Brett Dolman; curator at Historic Royal Palaces, Dr. Alden Gregory; material culture and music historian, Benjamin Hebbert; author and historian, Dr. Nicola Tallis; and historian, Dr. Valerie Schutte.
Herbert Smith Freehills Portrait Award 11th July – 27th October 2024
The Herbert Smith Freehills Portrait Award makes a welcome return to the National Portrait Gallery with new sponsorship. The prestigious portrait painting competition showcases the very best in contemporary portraiture and is open to everyone aged eighteen and over, in recognition of the outstanding and innovative work currently being produced by artists of all ages. Since its inception, the competition has attracted over 40,000 entries from more than 100 countries and has been seen by over 6 million people. Submissions for the 2024 edition are now open until 16 January 2024.
A new publication, including all works exhibited as part of the 2024 Herbert Smith Freehills Portrait Award will be available from July 2024.
Francis Bacon Portraits 10th October 2024 – 19th January 2025
Featuring works from the 1950s onwards, this major exhibition will be the largest and most comprehensive to explore Francis Bacon’s deep and complex engagement with portraiture to challenge traditional definitions of the genre, from his responses to portraits by earlier artists, to large-scale paintings memorialising lost lovers. While Bacon valued qualities of immediacy in the application of paint, in practice he frequently distanced himself from his subject, choosing to paint from photographs and memory. Featuring over 100 works from major public and private collections, the artist’s life story is explored in this exhibition through portrayals of his closest relationships – including lovers Peter Lacy and George Dyer and friends Isabel Rawsthorne and Lucian Freud – alongside self-portraiture in depictions that transcend likeness.
The exhibition publication Francis Bacon Portraits, written by curator Rosie Broadley, will be available from October 2024, with essays by art historian, Richard Calvocoressi; assistant curator at the National Portrait Gallery, Tanya Bentley; author and art historian, James Hall; art historian and Francis Bacon specialist, Martin Harrison; curator at Tate Britain, Carol Jacobi; archivist of The Estate of Francis Bacon, Sophie Pretorius; and associate professor of art history at the University of Birmingham, Dr Gregory Salter.
Taylor Wessing Photo Portrait Prize 14th November 2024 – 23rd February 2025
The Taylor Wessing Photo Portrait Prize returns for its 17th year in 2024, showcasing the work of talented young photographers, gifted amateurs and established professionals in the very best of contemporary photography. The competition celebrates a diverse range of images and tells the fascinating stories behind the creation of works, from formal commissioned portraits to more spontaneous and intimate moments capturing friends and family. The annual In Focus display will also highlight new work by an established photographer. The 2024 edition will see the unveiling of a new commission for the Gallery’s Collection, created by 2023’s commission prizewinner, Serena Brown. Submissions for the 2024 Prize will open in spring 2024.
A new publication including all works exhibited as part of the Taylor Wessing Photo Portrait Prize 2024 will be available from November 2024.
After a highly successful first season following our reopening, I am delighted to be presenting another year of innovative and engaging exhibtions. 2024’s programme will span from Tudor Queens to the greatest living artists, with something for everyone to enjoy. I would like to thank our sponsors for all their support in helping us deliver such an innovative and energetic programme of exhibitions.Dr Nicholas Cullinan Director, National Portrait Gallery