Face values: now Hockney makes an exhibition of himself and family

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The Independent Online

For five decades David Hockney has immortalised his friends and family on canvas and on paper. Yet while his portraiture has been the subject of a book, it has never been brought together for a dedicated show - until now.

The National Portrait Gallery in London announced yesterday that it was working with the artist on an exhibition designed as a highlight of its 150th anniversary celebrations next year. The show, in the second half of 2006, will span 50 years of the Bradford-born artist's pictures of himself, his family and friends.

Sandy Nairne, the gallery's director, said: "We are working very closely with David to go back across 50 years of his portraiture. Portraits have always been there, always been part of his thinking."

He suggested that it was Hockney's unceasing explorations of new ideas and techniques, whether through photography or the workings of the camera lucida, that had prevented a retrospective of his portraits before now.

However, recent work showed he had returned to portraits. Mr Nairne pointed out that the artist and the gallery shared a long history. Hockney's now iconic double portrait Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy was first shown at the National Portrait Gallery in 1971, the year it was painted, and will return for the new show.

Hockney has produced only two or three commissioned portraits during his career so nearly all of his portrait paintings are of loved ones. "There is a strong link between the portraits and his life. They are pictures of those close to him - people like Celia Birtwell [the textile designer married to the fashion designer Ossie Clark] and Gregory Evans [who has known Hockney since the 1970s and was his lover]."

The exhibition is one of a number of events celebrating the founding of the gallery 150 years ago when the gift of the so-called Chandos portrait of Shakespeare became the first item in its collection. It was pledged by its owner Lord Ellesmere during a debate in Parliament on establishing the gallery.

The work will feature in a exhibition called Searching for Shakespeare, featuring many items connected with the playwright rarely seen in public or never before lent for display.

They include his will from the National Archives at Kew, with each page personally signed, and the register from the parish church in Stratford-upon-Avon recording his own birth and those of his children.

Details of his birth are now illegible as they were on public display for most of the 19th century but those of his daughter Susanna and twins, Hamnet and Judith, are clear.

Another exhibition will focus on Angus McBean, who lived from 1904 to 1990 and was one of the 20th century's most significant British portrait photographers. He was particularly important for his records of actors but also produced a body of surrealist work.

Other plans for the anniversary year include a celebratory gala for a fundraising drive to underpin the acquisition and commissioning of portraits.

The Royal Mail intends to issue a set of stamps featuring images from the gallery's collections.

And BBC Radio 3 has commissioned the British composer Edward Cowie to take 10 famous portraits in the collection, of sitters including Germaine Greer, Richard Branson, Judi Dench and Stephen Hawking, and produce short pieces inspired by them.

The gallery is arranging a series of artists' talks on themes of identity and self-representation.

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