The National Portrait Gallery will lend six portraits of the country’s most famous historical figures to The Box in Plymouth from 25th September 2021 to 6th March 2022 as part of its National Skills Sharing Partnership Program.
This is a rare and exciting opportunity for visitors to explore the National Portrait Gallery’s valuable collections as it undergoes its transformative remodeling of inspiring people. The National Skills Sharing Partnership program, funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and Art Fund, will see the National Portrait Gallery work with 12 museums and galleries around the UK to create a network involving exchanges, mentorship, seminars and the chance to collaborate on exhibitions and exhibitions.
The six works coming to The Box will be on display in its 100 Journeys gallery, highlighting Plymouth as the starting point for some of the world’s most famous expeditions and travels. The works include depictions of Captain Cook, Charles Darwin, Napoléon Bonaparte, Sir Francis Drake and Sir Walter Ralegh, all of whom participated in or led some of history’s most iconic and infamous voyages.
The portraits — many of which have not been exhibited in a long time — will be on display among The Box’s substantial collection of breathtaking original exploratory material from exploration and scientific discovery, including Sir Francis Drake’s sword, globe and drum, Scott of Antarctica’s skis and mittens and Darwin’s sextant from Beagle, as well as letters written by Ralegh and archival material from Plymouth’s anti-slavery movement.
National Portrait Gallery works include a portrait of the British explorer Captain Cook shown in his uniform as a sea captain painted by John Webber, the official artist for Cook’s last voyage, which sailed from Plymouth to the Pacific in 1776. Two lithographs by naturalists, geologist and author to the theory of evolution Charles Darwin, whose voyage of discovery aboard the HMS Beagle started from Plymouth in 1831 will also be shown. One is by 19th-century cartoonist Faustin Betbeder, while another titled A Venerable Orang-Outang: A Contribution to Unnatural History by an Unknown Artist was first published on Hornet in 1871 by Frederick Arnold.
After being famously imprisoned aboard the HMS Bellerophon in Plymouth Sound in the summer of 1815, Napoleon was subsequently exiled to the remote Atlantic island of St Helena. The painter and diary Benjamin Robert Haydon (born in Plympton St Maurice, just outside Plymouth) was a great admirer of Napoleon and painted dozens of pictures of him. He even bought his death mask and tried on one of the emperor’s hats, which to his delight fit exactly. His portrait of Napoleon is contemplative and reflective as he thinks about his fates and misfortunes.
Also featured is a rare bromide postcard print by Scott of the Antarctic. Memory of the Antarctic Heroes was published in about 1912 by Rotary Photographic Co Ltd and depicts the Plymothic explorer who became the first British man to lead an expedition to the South Pole in 1912. In addition, an etching by James Barry entitled Triumph of Navigation dates to May 1, 1791 and depicts James Cook, Sir Walter Ralegh and Sir Francis Drake grouped together.
Councilor Mark Deacon, Cabinet Member for Customer Service, Culture, Leisure and Sports, said: “We are pleased to partner with the National Portrait Gallery as part of this national partnership and to showcase works by such well-known historical figures at The Box during the next few months. The objects in Gallery 100 Journeys are already helping us tell some fascinating stories about Plymouth as a point of arrival and departure. These new loans will enhance the screens and experience for our visitors even more. ”
Dr. Nicholas Cullinan, Director, National Portrait Gallery, London, said: “We are very pleased to partner with The Box on the National Skills Sharing Partnership as part of our transforming Inspiring People project. By working with museums and galleries in this way, we hope to encourage the exchange of skills and knowledge that will benefit both museum professionals and our audiences, and to develop collaborative exhibitions that make our portraits accessible to many more people in the UK. ”
The relationship between The Box and the National Portrait Gallery dates back to 2007, when Plymouth’s former Museum and Art Gallery hosted ‘Snowdon: Iconic Portraits’ as part of the DCMS / DfES Strategic Commissioning Program. The partnership also saw further exhibitions, ‘Family Album’ (2008), ‘Writers of Influence: Shakespeare to JK Rowling’ (2010), ‘Comedians: From the 1940s to now’ (2011) and ‘Laura Knight Portraits’ (2014) shown in the city.
The new loans can be viewed in The Box’s 100 Journeys gallery from September 25, 2021 to March 6, 2022. Opening hours are Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free and there is no need to book a ticket in advance.
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