Tracey Emin Bronzes Star At The National Portrait Gallery 2

Tracey Emin Bronzes Star At The National Portrait Gallery

Tracey Emin Bronzes Star At The National Portrait Gallery

The National Portrait Gallery (NPG) launched a three-year project in 2021 to redress the striking gender imbalance of both subject and artists work on display. At the outset of the project, only 25% of the portraits in the permanent collection were of women, while the proportion of work by female artists was just 12%.

The NPG has been closed for refurbishment for most of this period up to June 2023. When it reopened this summer, the NPG was keen to draw attention to the fact that 36% of portraits across the entire gallery are now of women, while in the post-1900 galleries this rises to an almost equal status of 48%. 

The NPG has also taken pains to commission more work by female artists, including Tracey Emin. At the gallery’s reopening in June, Emin’s contribution The Doors was unveiled. This consists of 45 hand-drawn portraits that are intended to reflect ‘everywoman’. The drawings have been cast in bronze, and now cover the three main entrance doors of the gallery.

The portraits are intended to act as a counterpoint to the exclusively male profiles that are sculpted around the main entrance. The new work includes all manner of female faces, from the young to the aged and ancient, in profile and full-on, all drawn with Emin’s fluent and energetic lines and frank quickness of expression.

Tracey Emin told Artlyst: “Women in history are greatly underrepresented. I didn’t want to depict specific or identifiable figures. I felt like the doors of the National Portrait Gallery should represent every woman, every age and every culture throughout time.”

“I used myself as a mental template, but the result is many different women, some that exist in my mind and some that perhaps exist in reality here and now, as well as from the past. And with all terms of art, it’s up to the viewer to discern what they feel and what they see or who they see, for that matter.

“I want people to stand before the doors and say, ‘She looks like my mother; she looks like my best friend, my daughter’. People might also relate and see an element of pain or heartbreak in the images.”

The portraits provide a perfect counterpoint to the solemn roundels of the prominent men from history which are displayed on the facade above the gallery entrance, and to the many more male portraits on display inside the gallery.

During the period of closure, the gallery staff have spent time researching the life and works of the existing female artists and also the female subjects in the collection. Astonishingly, this is the first time any detailed scholarly attention has been paid to many of these paintings and their creators. 


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