• 10 September 2009

The National Portrait Gallery acquires for the nation Marc Quinn's Self - the only cast from his series of 'Blood Heads' to join a British public collection, on display from today

The National Portrait Gallery today unveils its latest acquisition – a self-portrait cast of artist Marc Quinn’s head made in 2006 from his own blood and then frozen. The work was purchased for £300,000 following an appeal kick-started by a £100,000 grant from The Art Fund, the UK’s leading independent art charity. Other donations towards the purchase included £20,000 from The Henry Moore Foundation.

Unconventional, innovative and challenging, Self, known as the ‘blood head,’ is one of Quinn’s most important and influential works, one which has become an enduring image of the Brit Art movement. The first ‘blood head’ was made in 1991 and shown in the Royal Academy’s Sensation exhibition. Since then the artist has made a new cast every five years, documenting his own transformation and ageing.

As the three earlier blood heads are all in collections overseas, the Gallery will display the latest in the sequence in London, as a key work in its contemporary collection and as a way of engaging with issues of representation of the human figure in contemporary culture. The Gallery has an extensive collection of artists’ self-portraits made over the past 450 years.

The work is designed so that it can be melted, recast and refrozen when it has to be moved. Because it is the fourth in the series, extensive knowledge has built up in the care, conservation and display of such work, and the Gallery has examined the technical issues thoroughly.

Self was acquired by the Gallery, through White Cube, at a special price of £300,000, with support form The Art Fund, the Henry Moore Foundation, Terry and Jean de Gunzberg, ProjectB Contemporary Art and other private donations.

Emerging from the Young British Artists movement, Marc Quinn is an artist whose work raises many questions about identity and the nature of portraiture, questions which go close to the heart of the work of the National Portrait Gallery. He is already represented in the Collection by his DNA portrait of the Nobel-prize-winning Human Genome scientist, Sir John Sulston, commissioned by the Gallery, in collaboration with the Wellcome Foundation, in 2001.

To celebrate the arrival of Self, Marc Quinn will talk about his challenging works exploring the human form with art historian and broadcaster Tim Marlow at the National Portrait Gallery on 12 November. This special Artists in Conversation is presented in collaboration with independent charity The Art Fund and takes place as part of the Gallery’s regular Thursday evening events programme. Artists in Conversation in collaboration with The Art Fund continues on 10 December when Tim Marlow, who is also Director of Exhibitions at White Cube, talks to Jake and Dinos Chapman. Both events start at 7pm.

Marc Quinn says: ‘To me this sculpture came from wanting to push portraiture to an extreme, a representation which not only has the form of the sitter, but is actually made from the sitter’s flesh. It only exists in certain conditions, in this case being frozen, analogous to me, with a person being alive. For all these reasons I couldn't think of a better place for it to be than in the National Portrait Gallery collection.’

Sandy Nairne, Director of the National Portrait Gallery, London, says: ‘Quinn’s Self is an outstanding acquisition – a major icon of contemporary British art, both startling and revealing.’

Andrew Macdonald, Acting Director of The Art Fund, says: ‘This challenging and disquieting work is a fantastic example of Quinn’s fascination for the human body, and his capacity to stretch the notion of what portraiture can be. The Art Fund is delighted that our commitment of £100,000 has enabled the National Portrait Gallery to raise the money to acquire Self, the only version of the iconic series to be on public display in the UK.’

A short interview with Marc about the Gallery’s acquisition of Self can be found in the National Portrait Gallery’s new publication on its Contemporary Collections A Guide to Contemporary Portraits available from the Gallery priced £6.99 paperback.

For further press information please contact: Neil Evans, Senior Press Officer, National Portrait Gallery Tel 020 7312 2452 (not for publication) Email

For press images please visit:

National Portrait Gallery, St Martin’s Place, WC2H 0HE opening hours: Saturday-Wednesday: 10am – 6pm (Gallery closure commences at 5.50pm) Late Opening: Thursday, Fridays:10am - 9pm (Gallery closure commences at 8.50pm) Recorded information: 020 7312 2463 General information: 020 7306 0055 Website:


by Marc Quinn, 2006
© Marc Quinn; Photo: Todd-White Art Photography; Courtesy Jay Jopling / White Cube (London)

The Art Fund is the UK’s leading independent art charity. It offers grants to help UK museums and galleries enrich their collections; campaigns on behalf of museums and their visitors; and promotes the enjoyment of art. It is entirely funded from public donations and has 80,000 members. Since 1903 the charity has helped museums and galleries all over the UK secure 860,000 works of art for their collections. Recent achievements include: helping secure Titian’s Diana and Actaeon for the National Galleries of Scotland and the National Gallery, London in February 2009 with a grant of £1 million; helping secure Anthony d’Offay’s collection, ARTIST ROOMS, for Tate and National Galleries of Scotland in February 2008 with a grant of £1million; and running the ‘Buy a Brushstroke’ public appeal which raised over £550,000 to keep Turner’s Blue Rigi watercolour in the UK. For more information contact the Press Office on 020 7225 4888 or visit

The Art Fund is a Registered Charity No. 209174