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$12 million new gift from global mega-philanthropist Leonard Blavatnik to London’s National Portrait Gallery
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$12 million new gift from global mega-philanthropist Leonard Blavatnik to London’s National Portrait Gallery

The National Portrait Gallery (NPG) in London has accepted a £10m gift from the foundation set up by the British-American businessman Leonard Blavatnik.

To recognize the donation, the Trafalgar Square institution’s will rename its first floor the “Blavatnik Wing”. The nine galleries of the “wing” will be refurbished and are set to open in spring 2023, when the NPG reopens following its three-year closure and £35.5m revamp.

In an Instagram post, Nicholas Cullinan, the director of the NPG, said: “Proceeds from this generous donation will support our redevelopment and have also enabled the purchase of a disused ticket booth opposite the Gallery’s new entrance, kick-starting a further phase of transformation and marking the next chapter for the NPG.”

The Blavatnik Wing will be used to exhibit a comprehensive redisplay of the gallery’s permanent collection, showing portraits of some of the key figures in British history, from the Tudor era through to the mid-20th century. The new display will begin with a portrait dating back to 1840 and it will end with works from 1945, when Britain entered a new era after the cessation of the Second World War.

Notable portraits will include those depicting the naturalist Charles Darwin, who founded the theory of evolutionary biology; the political activist Emmeline Pankhurst, a key figure in the suffragette movement; and the British-Jamaican nurse Mary Seacole, who set up a field hospital behind the lines during the Crimean War.

Portraits of key British prime ministers, including William Gladstone and Benjamin Disraeli, as well as writers such as Oscar Wilde, Virginia Woolf and the Brontë sisters will also be on show.

The Blavatnik-sponsored galleries have been designed by the architectural firm Jamie Fobert Architects working in partnership with the architects and heritage consultants Purcell. The redevelopment will also see the return to public use of the gallery’s East Wing, which will be named the Weston Wing.

Mr. Blavatnik is Britain’s wealthiest individual. He was born in 1957 in Odessa, Ukraine, to a Jewish family. After moving to Moscow as a child, he made his initial fortune after the collapse of the Soviet Union in Russia through the ownership of newly privatized aluminum and oil assets. In the UK, he is best known for owning most of Warner Music Group, one of the largest record labels in the world.

Blavatnik is a long-term investor in London’s institutional art world. In 2011, he donated more than £50m to the Tate Modern gallery in London—the largest donation in the gallery’s history.

In 2017, the gallery named their new £266m extension building the Blavatnik Building. In December 2020, Blavatnik made a donation of £10m towards the renovation of the Courtauld Institute of Art in Somerset House, London. In February 2022, he made a multi-million-pound contribution to the city’s Imperial War Museum.

The gift will be used to establish the Blavatnik Art, Film and Photography Galleries.

Mr. Blavatnik is a global philanthropist committed to advancing science, higher education, good government and the arts through meaningful involvement and charitable giving. Born in Odesa, Ukraine, he is a dual American and British citizen, knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2017 for his service to philanthropy and, in 2013, he was appointed Chevalier of the French Legion d’Honneur for his support of education.

He established the Blavatnik Family Foundation, that is exclusively self-funded. Over the past decade, the Foundation has contributed more than $1 billion to over 250 charitable institutions worldwide.

Upholding the values instilled in him by his academic parents, Mr. Blavatnik’s giving strategy prioritizes scientific research and discovery and higher education.

Donations are highly concentrated to drive meaningful impact and to promote innovation in science, engineering and technology that will benefit the whole of society.

The Foundation focuses on select institutions leading the way in early-stage discovery vital to scientific and health-related breakthroughs.

Mr. Blavatnik believes that funding young scientists at premier universities and scientific research centers will more quickly advance research and transform discovery into practical applications to improve human health.

To date, the Foundation has donated more than $475 million to institutions renowned for their study of basic and life sciences. This includes the largest gift in the history of Harvard Medical School at $200 million as well as $60 million for Harvard Business School initiatives and other research initiatives related to the life sciences at Harvard University.

Other transformational grants and fellowships include $35 million to Yale University and multimillion-dollar grants to the Stanford University School of Medicine, Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science at Columbia University, Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, and Tel Aviv University.

In 2007, Mr. Blavatnik created the Blavatnik Awards for Young Scientists together with the New York Academy of Sciences. With a distinguished judging panel of numerous Nobel laureates and many of the world’s most esteemed scientists, the award recognizes promising scientists in the early stages of their careers and at a point in scientific discovery when seed funding can most significantly accelerate breakthrough research. The awards are funded through the Foundation’s commitment of $30 million that, to date, has supported more than 375 scientists in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Israel.

Leonard Blavatnik is an avid supporter of universities distinguished by programs of excellence in the study of international business and government. Foundation donations have included a £75 million gift to the University of Oxford, so that it could establish a school of government.

Opening in 2012 with a mission to inspire and further better government and public policy globally, alumni from the Blavatnik School of Government have gone on to become public service leaders around the world, including deputy director of the UK’s Department of International Trade, policy adviser to the head of the European Political Strategy Centre, chief of staff for the Ministry of Education’s Cabinet Office in Kenya, head of the District Secretariat for Women’s Affairs in Bogotá, Columbia, the youngest ever minister in Yemen, and members of the Provincial Parliament in Canada and Brazilian House of Representatives.

Blavatnik also created the Blavatnik Fellowship in Life Science Entrepreneurship program at Harvard Business School to provide MBA students with experience in life science entrepreneurship through exposure to biomedical projects at Harvard.

A lifelong patron of the arts, Blavatnik has supported world-class cultural institutions by donating more than $150 million to theaters, museums and performing arts centers.

The Foundation’s contributions have ranged from $25 million to Carnegie Hall in New York to fund the growth of its artistic, educational and digital initiatives to £50 million to the Tate Modern Museum in London, one of its largest gifts, to generous support of the Victoria and Albert Museum. In 2020, the Foundation announced a £10 million gift to The Courtauld Institute for Art to support a major transformation of the world leading art history center.

Mr. Blavatnik is actively involved in a variety of educational, scientific and cultural pursuits. He serves on the boards of Tel Aviv University and Carnegie Hall and is a member of the Harvard University Global Advisory Council. He is also a founding patron of the National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America, a program created by Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute in 2013.

Mr. Blavatnik is the chairman and founder of Access Industries, a privately held global investment group established in 1986.

One of the most thoughtful philanthropists of recent decades, Mr. Blavatnik was born in the former Soviet Union in 1957, he attended Moscow State University and later immigrated with his family to the U.S. in 1978.

He earned a master’s degree in computer science from Columbia University in 1981, became a U.S. citizen in 1984, and received his MBA from Harvard Business School in 1989. He became a dual citizen of the UK in 2010.

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