A small and curious exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery

This is an eclectic show. How could it not be? A wide remit of three hundred years and the only filter is sex.

The photos and paintings of the women fall into distinct groups. The first are the free spirits, leaving home after a scandal, ready to get away from moustachioed husbands and covered chair legs. Several had Bloomsbury affiliations and pose with a twinkle in their eye. Jane Digby was the essence of this group, leaving England after a messy divorce and finding refuge in the Middle East, sampling local men along the way (according to the caption).

Others were more circumspect and found themselves in colonial outposts as part of their husbands’ careers. Many were propelled by wanderlust alone. Rose McCauley captured Spain in the 60’s before the Costa del Sol obliterated the fishing villages and Martha Gelhorn had feet so itchy, even her husband trailed in her slipstream.

There’s little in the Captain Scott style of adventuring, all minus 20 marching and shoe leather suppers, but the legacy is an unsurpassed collection of literature that highlights the adrenaline-fuelled absurdity of male exploration in the same era.

More curious were the public themselves, many wore rucksacks and gore-tex, as if they had just returned from trips of their own. Jumbled by the exit are mock suitcases, the idea to write a tag of your ideal travel destination and pin it to the handle. It was a mix of thrilling and dull; Benin and Benidorm, Kathmandu and Rome, Timbuktu and Home.

The exhibition runs to the end of October and is free.