From its informal foundation by ministerial memo back in 1898, historical portraits have formed some of the first purchases of the Collection and they continue to do so today.
Two of the earliest portraits 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.
Marking the centenary of the Representation of the People Act in 2018, all of the works bought 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. The first female court painter to King Charles I, Carlile was one of the first women to work as a professional artist in 17th century England