Unseen portraits taken by Paul McCartney in the early 1960s, when the Beatles were catapulted to international stardom, will go on display at the refurbished National Portrait Gallery this summer.
McCartney thought the photographs, taken between December 1963 and February 1964, had been lost, but he recently recovered them.
The exhibition, Paul McCartney Photographs 1963-64: Eyes of the Storm, “will provide a unique personal perspective on what it was like to be a Beatle at the start of Beatlemania,” said Nicholas Cullinan, NPG’s director.
“The photographs taken during this period captured the moment when John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr were propelled from being the most popular band in Britain to an international cultural phenomenon, from concerts in Liverpool and London to performing at The The Ed Sullivan Show in New York to a television audience of 73 million people.
“At a time when so many camera lenses were on the band, these photographs will share fresh insight into their experiences, all through the eyes of Sir Paul McCartney.”
The Beatles star approached NPG in 2020, Cullinan said. “He said he found these pictures that he remembers taking but thought were lost. We sat down with him and started going through them. (It was) extraordinary to see these pictures – which are unseen – of such a well-documented, famous and important cultural moment.
“They are taken by someone who really, as the exhibition title suggests, was in the eye of the storm, looking outside at what was happening.”
McCartney plans to publish a book of the photographs to coincide with his 81st birthday in June. The 275 images in the collection were taken on a 35mm camera in New York, Washington, London, Liverpool, Miami and Paris.
McCartney’s family includes three famous photographers. His first wife, Linda McCartney, was the first woman to grace a Rolling Stone cover. The couple’s daughter Mary McCartney is an acclaimed photographer and filmmaker, and his brother Mike has published picture books of the Beatles.
Last year, McCartney released The Lyrics, in which he traced his life story through the lyrics of his songs. The book became a bestseller.
The NPG, a Grade I listed building in central London that houses the world’s largest collection of portraits, has been closed for a major refurbishment since March 2020. During the closure, it lent works to galleries and museums around the world.
The gallery reopens to the public on June 22 with an exhibition exploring the life and career of Yevonde, the 20th-century photographer who pioneered the use of color photography in the 1930s. It will include portraits and still-life works that the artist produced over her 60-year career and will reflect the growing independence of women at the time, while focusing on the freedom photography gave Yevonde.
This autumn, the NPG will be remounting an exhibition, David Hockney: Drawing from Life, which opened just 20 days before the gallery was forced to close due to Covid in March 2020. The exhibition explores Hockney’s work over the past six decades through his intimate portraits of five seated – his mother, Laura Hockney, Celia Birtwell, Gregory Evans, Maurice Payne and the artist himself – in a range of media and styles, from pencil, pen and ink and colored pencil to photographic collage and iPad.
The 2023 show will also show for the first time new portraits of friends and visitors to the artist’s Normandy studio between 2020 and 2022.
In February 2024, the gallery will mount an exhibition of contemporary African diasporic artists working in the UK and US, curated by the former director of the Institute of Contemporary ArtEkow Eshun.
The Time is Always Now: Artists Reframe the Black Figure will include works by Hurvin Anderson, Michael Armitage, Jordan Casteel, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Noah Davis, Lubaina Himid, Claudette Johnson, Titus Kaphar, Kerry James Marshall, Toyin Ojih Odutola, Nathaniel Mary Quinn, Amy Sherald, Henry Taylor, and Barbara Walker.
In addition to examining how artists depict the black form, it will address the absence of black presence in Western art history.
The NPG has unveiled a new logo to “better reflect its role as a gallery of people, for people, telling the story of Britain’s past, present and future through portraiture” and a redesigned website ahead of its reopening.
Cullinan said: “Our program of exhibitions for our first year (after reopening) presents some of the world’s best-known artists in a fresh light, features extraordinary and never-before-seen images, uncovers the work of remarkable innovators, maps important cultural terrain. and showcases the greatest contemporary portraits.”
Paul McCartney Photographs 1963-64: Eyes of the Storm runs from 28 June to 1 October 2023.
Yevonde: Life and Color runs from June 22 to October 15, 2023.
David Hockney: Drawing from Life runs from 2 November 2023 to 21 January 2024.
The Time is Always Now: Artists Reframe the Black Figure runs from February 22 to May 19, 2024.