Picture a Life: Portraits of Unknown People

Go to Nottingham City Museums

This exhibition looks at the intriguing concept of the unknown sitter and includes works from Nottingham City Museums fine art collection.   Sometimes the sitters identity was not documented at the time the artwork was made, or that information has been lost over the years since. The anonymity of the sitter means that we have an opportunity to imagine the life – or the back story’ ­− of the person in the artwork.



Portraiture is a means of recording the appearance of someone. Before the invention of photography, this was the only way to create images of people. ‘Picture a Life’ offers encounters with people from the 17th to the 20th century. You are invited to question what the artists included in the exhibition have to say about their sitters. 

The paintings and drawings in this exhibition were selected for their curious or compelling body language and expressions.  This emerged from the experience of one of the exhibition’s curators, who is deaf and who actively uses body language and facial expressions to help with communication. This influences the way they look at art, especially the use of subtle gestures and expressions.


This exhibition has been organised by Nottingham City Museums, in collaboration with the National Portrait Gallery National Skills Programme Partnership Programme.

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