The History Group

About the History Group

The National Gallery History Group was launched in 1999, to mark the 175th anniversary of the founding of the National Gallery. This discussion group aims to explore issues related to the history of the Gallery and other national museums and galleries.

Past topics have included the architecture of the Gallery, Kenneth Clark, the Layard Bequest, the history of collecting and the Anrep mosaics.

Meetings are normally held three times a year, last for just over an hour and include a main paper of about 45 minutes in length, followed by some discussion on the points raised.

The meetings are open to anyone with an interest in the history of the Gallery or museums and galleries in general. They will be of particular interest to users of the Gallery Archive and Dossiers, as well as colleagues from other museums, academic establishments and organisations.

Join the History Group mailing list

Contact us if you would like to be placed on our mailing list:

National Gallery Archive
The National Gallery
Trafalgar Square
London WC2N 5DN

Tel: 020 7747 2831
Fax: 020 7747 2892

History Group: next meeting

Sir George Scharf and his Archive at the National Portrait Gallery
Bryony Millan, Archivist, National Portrait Gallery
Thursday 27 September, 5.45-7pm
Pigott Education Centre Rooms 2/3
Please use the Pigott Education Centre Entrance in Orange Street
All welcome – RSVP to or 020 7747 2576

About the talk

In the years immediately after its establishment, the National Portrait Gallery was viewed as a ‘Cinderella’ amongst the other galleries of London. It lacked a permanent location, sufficient funds and the collection consisted of only a handful of portraits. However, the Portrait Gallery was fortunate in the appointment of Sir George Scharf as its first secretary and director. The archetypal Victorian gentlemen, he worked tirelessly for nearly forty years to lay the foundations of today’s National Portrait Gallery. 

Alongside his responsibilities as Director he worked in a private capacity on various external projects: preparing exhibitions and compiling scholarly catalogues of private collections. Scharf was also a socialite, meeting and befriending many of the rich and powerful of his time. In all these activities, he was a meticulous recorder of the world as he experienced it, making countless sketches and entries in his private diaries.

The lecture aims to provide an insight into the life of this remarkable man, through the lens of the Portrait Gallery’s history and using the collection of papers bequeathed to the Portrait Gallery. These papers have recently been catalogued as part of a project funded by the National Cataloguing Grants Programme for Archives.  A full text searchable catalogue is available on the Portrait Gallery’s website [external link].