National Portrait Gallery, London, holds the most extensive collection of portraits in the world. Whilst the museum is closed, Aesthetica explores its online photography programme – highlighting competitions and curated galleries to provide creative inspiration and respite.
British portrait photographer Cecil Beaton captured the extravagant world of the “Bright Young Things” during the 1920s and 1930s. Subjects included High Society and the avant-garde – set against glittering sets of flowers, butterflies and balloons. There are a variety of curator-led films to watch from home, alongside an Instagram competition to create your own, Beaton-inspired composition.
Online audiences can browse portraits by over 400 lens-based women artists. The collection offers a new perspective on many names, including Berenice Abbott, who is best known for her architectural images of New York’s cityscape. Pioneering 19th century figure Julia Margaret Cameron is amongst those listed, alongside trailblazing fashion photographer Louise Dahl-Wolfe.
This digital gallery delves into experimental effects used by the Surrealists. Photography came to occupy a central role in the movement, which is recognised for its interest in the unconscious mind. Solarisation was discovered accidentally by Man Ray and Lee Miller and involved exposing a partially developed image to light. The results unite the visual language of dream states with that of reality.
Today’s the Day offers bitesized information alongside pieces from the collection. It links historical figures and events to today’s date – providing a plethora of interesting trivia and fun facts. Each snippet is paired with a work from NPG’s archives, offering an easy and spontaneous way into the collection. A quick daily dose of arts, culture and history.
NPG presents regular interviews with contemporary image-makers. Asking questions such as: “When did you first start taking photographs?”, “What or who has influenced your work?” and “How do you prepare for a shoot?”, it is an opportunity to gain insight into their practice. Featured artists include John Stezaker, whose collages take inspiration from Max Ernst.
Lead Image: Nancy and Baba Beaton by Cecil Beaton, 1926. Photograph: The Cecil Beaton Studio Archive at Sotheby’s.
1. The Silver Soap Suds: (from left) Baba Beaton, the Hon Mrs Charles Baillie-Hamilton and Lady Bridget Poulett, 1930. Photograph: © The Cecil Beaton Studio Archive.
2. Paula Gellibrand, Marquesa de Casa Maury by Cecil Beaton, 1928.
3. Teresa (‘Tess’) (née Mayor), Baroness Rothschild by Ramsey & Muspratt, 1930s © National Portrait Gallery, London. Given by Jane Burch
4. Francis Goodman by Winifred Casson circa 1935. NPG x24433 © reserved; collection National Portrait Gallery, London.