From its informal foundation by ministerial memo back in 1899, historical portraits formed some of the first purchases of the Collection and they continue to be acquired today.
Two of the earliest portraits in the Collection have been acquired since 2016. An Anglo-Flemish depiction of Henry VIII (c.1527-1550), was installed at 10 Downing Street in 2016 during Theresa May’s government. Displayed in the Pillared Room, it continues to welcome many thousands of visitors who step into the house’s state reception room.
To mark the centenary of the Representation of the People Act in 2018, all the works bought by the Collection that year were by women. Portrait of a Lady Wearing an Oyster Satin Dress (c.1650s) by Joan Carlile is the earliest portrait by a woman to join the Collection. A court painter to King Charles I, Carlile was one of the first women to work as a professional artist in 17th century England