Your questions and feedback are very welcome. Please contact

Please note that although I would be very glad to hear about other historical portrait-sitting accounts, I do not intend to expand the database or to include contemporary accounts, for the time being.

A portrait sitting is a moment of interaction between an artist, a sitter (the person who is portrayed) and sometimes others, from which a portrait is typically produced.

The portrait-sitting database is a collection of information about portrait sittings, specifically, sittings for British portraits 1900-1960 and, predominantly, portraits in the National Portrait Gallery.

The portrait-sitting ontology is a formal specification of the objects, concepts and relationships that make up knowledge about portrait sittings. It is the framework, according to which the data in the portrait-sitting database has been structured.

The portrait-sitting database is part of my (Dawn Kanter's) PhD research project, which explores how a digital approach to the portrait sitting can enhance knowledge and understanding of British portraiture 1900-1960. Within the context of this research, I have used the portrait-sitting database

  • to reinterpret particular portraits in terms of social interactions and exchanges
  • to identify similarities between portraits that are visually and materially different
  • to develop and express a theory of portraiture as a network of linked exchanges
  • to revise and extend existing, artist-centric narratives of twentieth-century British portraiture

Every entity in the portrait-sitting database is represented by a page on this website. For example, this page is about the entity 'John Collier'. The page contains information about the entity. For example, the information about John Collier includes that he is a person, that he was born in 1850, and that he was involved in the production of a portrait of Michael Foster. You can follow a link to any entity that is contained within this information, for example, Collier's role in the production of a portrait of Michael Foster.

There are three ways to search the portrait-sitting database

  1. You can use the search bar, which is at the top right of the page for desktop users and at the bottom of the main menu for mobile users. Results that match your search term will appear as you type. Click on the result you want, to navigate to that page.

  2. You can select any class in the portrait-sitting ontology to see all instances of that class. For example, select 'Sculpture' for a list of sculptures.

  3. You can browse by portrait-sitting record, by portrait production event, by portrait-sitting account, or by portrait object.

  4. You may also like to visit the main search page.

The portrait-sitting ontology and data are products of my, Dawn Kanter's, PhD research at The Open University. The portrait-sitting database website and documentation are products of a 3-month placement with the Knowledge Media Institute. Both the research and placement are funded by the Open-Oxford-Cambridge AHRC DTP.

Each portrait-sitting account is accompanied by a link to its source and, where appropriate, a page number. The data for each source includes, for example, the title, author(s), editor(s) and publication date.

To cite the database, please use the author 'Dawn Kanter', the title 'Portrait-Sitting Database', the date of the latest release (as given in the website footer), and the URL ''.

The database was first published in February 2023. It will remain online until at least February 2028.

Your questions and feedback about the portrait-sitting database and the wider research project are very welcome. Please use to get in touch.