The National Portrait Gallery will get a new wing as part of its refurbishment when it reopens in 2023, after the institution received a £10m gift.
The Blavatnik Wing will host more than 100 years of British portraits in nine galleries as part of the London gallery’s Inspiring People project.
Paintings of the naturalist Charles Darwin, and the writers Oscar Wilde, Virginia Woolf, the Brontë sisters and Samuel Taylor Coleridge will help visitors explore society and culture in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
The portraits, which also include the suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst, the businesswoman and nurse Mary Seacole and prime ministers William Gladstone and Benjamin Disraeli, date from 1840 to 1945.
Painters of the portraits include the artists Sir John Everett Millais, George Frederic Watts, John Singer Sargent, Laura Knight, Gwen John and Lucian Freud.
Nicholas Cullinan, the director of the National Portrait Gallery, said it was “incredibly grateful” to the British-American industrialist turned media mogul Sir Leonard Blavatnik and his wife for the gift for helping the project and the gallery’s “future development”.
“I would also like to thank the American Friends of the National Portrait Gallery for their involvement and support,” he added. “The Blavatnik Wing … will be at the heart of our redevelopment.”
Blavatnik said: “The Blavatnik Family Foundation is proud to support the National Portrait Gallery and we look forward to next year’s opening.”
The gallery said the gift from the foundation would also help support the biggest development since its building in St Martin’s Place opened in 1896.
Details of the National Portrait Gallery’s revamp were first announced in 2019, and a decision was taken to close the gallery from June 2020 until spring 2023. In this time, the gallery – which had more than 1.5 million visitors in 2018-19 – has slow hundreds of portraits a year to regional galleries and organizations across the UK.
When it reopens, there will be a new ticket booth, situated on Irving Street alongside the gallery’s new north-facing forecourt, as well as a spacious 1,700 sq ft area below ground level.
The project includes a comprehensive redisplay of the gallery’s collection – from the Tudors to now – combined with a complete refurbishment of the building, restoring historical features, as well as enhancing accessibility and surrounding areas through the new Ross Place entrance.
The Gallery’s East Wing will also be restored to public use as the Weston Wing, and there will be a learning center with specialist equipment, studios and breakout spaces.