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With the NPG awarded £40,000 of funding from the Art Fund New Collecting Award specifically for this project, it is a chance for dealers to sell or donate works for this new collection.

Dr Louise Stewart, NPG cross-collections curator, is leading the search for portraits owned, displayed, viewed and exchanged by ordinary people. Memorial brasses, stained glass, wood carvings, pilgrim badges, English delftware and needlework are on the shopping list.

Stewart’s criteria for objects is varied, depending on date.

Pre-1600s items do not need to feature a specific sitter but have to include a human likeness or something which expresses identity, for example heraldry. Objects post-1600 must represent an individual, but not necessarily with names attached.

Depictions of non-white people and women, as well as and objects expressing social and cultural diversity, are of particular interest.

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Dr Louise Stewart, cross-collections curator at the NPG.

Stewart, who has already bought a number of objects, cites as good examples a 14th century earthenware floor tile with an image of a king or queen and a pottery figure of Tom Molineaux, the African-American bare-knuckle boxer and former slave, c.1815.

“I’m sure that dealers will have lots of relevant, interesting and perhaps unexpected material,” she added.

Martin Levy of H Blairman & Sons, medieval art specialist Sam Fogg and Errol Manners of E&H Manners have already become involved in the project.

The objects will form part of an exhibition in 2019 and then, following the refurbishment of the gallery, will become part of the permanent collection from 2022.

Museums and galleries are under pressure to improve visitor figures. According to the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (ALVA), NPG visitor numbers in 2017 fell 35% to 1.27m. Projects to widen the type of artworks displayed are deemed a way to attract new visitors.

Dealers can contact Louise at lstewart@npg.org.uk.

The NPG also accepts works as gifts and bequests and can credit supporters on display labels.