Exploring Portraiture with the National Portrait Gallery and Compton Verney

Exploring Portraiture with the National Portrait Gallery and Compton Verney

By Clare Preston, National Portrait Gallery Intern

On the 22nd of June this year, London’s National Portrait Gallery (NPG) will be re-opening following an extensive 3-year transformation project to refurbish the building, create and improve public spaces, and revitalise the nation’s portraiture collection. Whilst the building in London has been closed, the NPG has been collaborating with partner museums and galleries across the country to explore the wealth of portraiture collections found in the UK and the contemporary relevance of this genre.

As one of the NPG’s partner galleries, we at Compton Verney staged the exhibition Portraits from the National Portrait Gallery in 2022 which featured 10 loans from the NPG’s collection, displayed alongside historic portraits from our own collection. We are pleased that, as part of our continuing collaboration and to celebrate the NPG’s re-opening in summer 2023, we have been invited to participate in a national ‘celebration of portraiture’, helping to showcase the work of portrait artists. So, in the coming weeks we will be presenting a series of informative posts on social media on six portraits chosen from across our permanent collections – British Portraits (including portrait miniatures), Folk Art, Northern Europe and Naples.

As an intern working at Compton Verney, funded by the National Portrait Gallery, I am lucky to be part of a network of museum and gallery workers in participating galleries across the country, giving opportunities to people who hope to work in the sector. I arrived at a very busy time for the gallery with the installation of two new exhibitions – the ground-breaking Making Mischief, celebrating folk costume and customs and Tudor Mystery: A Master Painter Revealed. It was exciting to be involved in aspects of the installation process for Making Mischief, including condition checking and photographing items from our lenders and assisting with dressing mannequins, amongst other tasks. One costume in particular, a May Queen dress from 1947, captured my interest, in the first instance because of (in my opinion!) its beauty, but also its history. Wartime rationing on commodities such as clothing was still in place at this time, so this dress was made with recycled parachute cotton and the design painted on by students at Whitelands College, who have been kind enough to loan us this amazing dress for our exhibition. I was also fascinated to discover that a pair of antlers we have been loaned as part of the Abbotts Bromley Horn Dance costume have been dated as far back the 11th century.

Other highlights of my time here so far have included an invite to a study session for our Tudor Mystery exhibition with some of the leading scholars on Renaissance art in this country; it was really interesting to hear their opinions and insights. Researching images for our upcoming exhibition ‘Quentin Blake: Birds, Beasts and Explorers’ was great fun and I’ve also been able to meet with some contemporary artists whose work will be featured in future exhibitions, so the work has certainly been varied!

© Compton Verney, Photo by Jamie Woodley

One of the first tasks I was involved with when I first arrived at Compton Verney however, was to continue the cataloguing of the Grantchester Miniatures  collection, bequeathed to our gallery in 2019 from the late Lady Grantchester, sister of our founder, Sir Peter Moores. This was not a genre familiar to me when I arrived here so it has been interesting to discover the history behind these tiny, delicate works of art, often worn as jewellery and created as symbols of love, as a memorial or for a special occasion. We recently hosted a talk by Emma Rutherford, a leading specialist in the field of portrait miniatures who gave us some wonderful insights into the world of miniature painting. Two of the miniatures from our collection will feature in our social media posts to celebrate the power of portraiture to tell the story of British culture, history and society.