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Iconic portrait exhibition lands in Aust

More than 80 portraits, including an iconic early 17th century likeness of Shakespeare, have gone on display at the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra.

The Shakespeare to Winehouse exhibition features some of the most well-known works from the National Portrait Gallery in London, including the faces of Queen Elizabeth II, the Beatles, David Bowie, Kate Moss, Mick Jagger and Princess Diana.

There are also paintings of Charles Dickens, Queen Elizabeth I and Sir Isaac Newton, as well as a portrait of the Bronte sisters, which was long thought lost before its discovery atop a cupboard in 1914.

Perhaps the most famous work of the collection is of William Shakespeare, painted between 1600 and 1610 by his godson John Taylor.

It’s the only portrait of the bard believed to have been painted during his lifetime and was the very first work acquired by the NPG London when founded in 1856.

Curator Joanna Gilmour told AAP the Canberra show explores fame, power, love and identity.

“Even back in the 17th and 18th centuries there were people using images of themselves to create fame and to create celebrity in much the same way modern-day celebrities do it now,” she said.

One painting of Queen Elizabeth I from 1570 glows with intricate detail, according to Ms Gilmour.

“She looks like some kind of goddess … it’s so painstakingly executed, every pearl on her dress, every bit of gold thread in the gown, it’s all so incredibly detailed and intricately painted,” she said.

Although some of the works have taken hours to install due to their size – the biggest measuring more than 2.5m across and 1.5m high – Ms Gilmour said working on the show has been a joy and she hopes it will bring some happiness during difficult times.

“Everyone has been having a really rough time for the past couple of years … if you can come to the gallery and have a couple of hours respite in the presence of these beautiful artworks, then we’ve done our job,” she said.

NPG London is closed for renovations and won’t reopen until next year.

The exhibition runs from March 12 to July 17.

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