It is the pantheon that boasts portraits of almost every king, queen and prime minister in English history.
Next year, they will be joined in the National Portrait Gallery by the more ephemeral figure of Kate Moss, model, alleged cocaine snorter and, to this generation, a figure who is very possibly more interesting than great statesmen. In an attempt to tap into the "yoof" market â€” and mount a serious money-spinner â€” the gallery unveiled plans yesterday for what it said would be the first exhibition by a major museum in this country of portraiture in fashion photography.
More than 100 images of Moss, Madonna, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Justin Timberlake, Sharon Stone and a host of models will be displayed in an attempt to prove the gallery's new thesis â€” that fashion photographs are the new portraiture.
The images, by six of the world's top fashion photographers â€” Corinne Day, Steven Klein, Paolo Roversi, Mario Sorrenti and Mert Alas & Marcus Piggott â€” were all taken for magazines such as Vogue, Pop, The Face and W since 1990.
One of the earliest, a shot of Moss by Day, shows her in a grungy pose in T-shirt and underpants surrounded by fairy lights in what became known as "heroin chic", when fashion turned anti-glamour and started to use matchstick-thin models.
Sandy Nairne, director of the gallery, said yesterday: "Fashion surrounds us. It may sometimes irritate us but it has an influence which is undeniable.
"This is the first time there has been a concentration on it as portraiture."
The gallery hopes that the Face of Fashion will also make the tills ring. In 2002, an exhibition of celebrity pictures by Mario Testino attracted almost 170,000 visitors and was the gallery's most successful paying exhibition.
Susan Bright, the curator of Face of Fashion, said the exhibition was more than an exercise in glamour.
All were exceptional portraits and many of the images were consciously "anti-glamour".