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National Portrait Gallery unveils crowdfunding campaign for redevelopment

National Portrait Gallery forecourt proposal (Jamie Fobert Architects/Forbes Massie)
National Portrait Gallery forecourt proposal (Jamie Fobert Architects/Forbes Massie)

The National Portrait Gallery has unveiled plans for a £35.5 million transformation of its new building, sparking just one possible concern – attracting floating Yodas.

The pavement in front of its neighbour, the National Gallery, has become home to street performers dressed as levitating Yodas and other film characters following the redevelopment of Trafalgar Square.

Plans unveiled for the National Portrait Gallery include creating a new main entrance, “bringing back to life” its East Wing, which has been closed to the public, and making a public forecourt.

Plans for the National Portrait Gallery
Plans for the National Portrait Gallery (Jamie Fobert Architects)

Architect Jamie Fobert said planning authorities agreed that a “much more open space”, in front of the central London gallery, was needed to “transform the unhappy piece of public realm” which is currently there.

But he admitted: “I think Westminster (Council) have said that there is a constant concern about how many Yodas you can have on that pavement in front of the National Gallery and whether that is something that is going to happen here.”

The transformation will be the biggest since the gallery, which describes itself as the “nation’s family album”, opened its doors in 1896.

Plans to transform the learning centre at the National Portrait Gallery
Plans to transform the learning centre at the National Portrait Gallery (Jamie Fobert Architects)

It has launched a crowdfunding campaign to help pay for the work – with people able to sponsor a piece of mosaic or even adopt one of the busts which adorn the front of the building.

Sponsoring a piece of mosaic in the new forecourt will cost £50, while the busts of the likes of Hans Holbein the Younger, Sir Anthony van Dyck and Sir Joshua Reynolds will set sponsors back £50,000.

National Portrait Gallery director Dr Nicholas Cullinan said the crowdfunding campaign made the plans “more democratic and inclusive”.

The ground floor will feature the gallery’s contemporary images of the likes of David Beckham and activist Malala Yousafzai.

David Beckham
David Beckham (Kirsty Wigglesworth/PA)

Dr Cullinan said: “It’s not about dumbing down or making those portraits more obvious; it’s about giving those portraits a fixed home.

“We’re not going to favour particular periods, but right now the post-war period and the contemporary is given short shrift.”

He added of the works most often on display: “The most common question that visitors ask is “Why does nobody here look like me?”

It will also be redisplaying all of the collection in its 40 galleries, providing a “greater and more diverse selection of portraits”.

The gallery, whose recent shows have ranged from portraits of Michael Jackson to Cezanne, has already secured £27.4 million of its target, with the biggest donation from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The redevelopment will create around 20% more public space, and building work is scheduled to begin in the summer of 2020.

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