John Opie, ‘Portrait of the Artist’ c.1790
John Opie
Portrait of the Artist c.1790

This building was opened in 1897 as the National Gallery of Modern British Art, showcasing work by artists born after 1790. In 1917 the Curzon Report clarified the gallery’s remit, making it the home of British historic and contemporary art, and of international modern and contemporary art. It also gave the gallery greater independence from its parent institution, The National Gallery.

The portraits of artists on display here were acquired for the national collection before 1917. Although put together in a piecemeal way, as a group they show how the gallery was thinking about the British School during these formative years.

Tate’s collecting of historic art has focused on oil paintings. However the artists represented here worked in a range of media, and some historic sculptures did enter the collection at this early date. All the artists are male, and almost all were academically trained and worked primarily in London. The contributions of women artists, the artistic cultures of Scotland, Wales and Ireland, and even the English regions, are largely overlooked. Although Tate’s collection has expanded and changed greatly over the last century, some of these prejudices have endured.

This display has been devised by curator Martin Myrone

View the artworks in this display