How to look for records of... Art and artists’ records held by other archives
1. Why use this guide?
This research guide offers an introduction to important historical sources on art and artists in archival collections held by repositories of all kinds.
It offers a series of suggestions on collections of significant groups and individuals related to art and artists which are of potential use to researchers on these subjects.
2. Essential information
The collections of records outlined in this research guide are held at the locations stated.
3. Searching for records
Search Discovery, our catalogue, to find records from The National Archives and over 2,500 archives across the UK. You can start by searching for keywords such as the name of a particular organisation or an artist.
Your search results will display details from a range of archives. You can then refine your results.
Where the keywords you searched for appear in the description of a record, the search results are displayed under the ‘Records’ tab.
Where the keywords you searched for appear in the name of the institution or person that originally created the record (often not the same as the institution or person that currently holds the record), the search results are displayed under the ‘Record creators’ tab.
For further tips on searching see our catalogue help pages.
4. Artists’ Papers Register
Artists’ Papers Register (APR) is an online list of archival documents relating to artists, designers and craftspeople in publicly-accessible collections in the UK. It is produced and maintained by the Association of Art Historians.
The APR contains references to papers papers relating to painters, sculptors, designers, design groups and studios, craftspeople, those engaged in design occupations within manufacturing, and others – such as curators and historians – associated with these activities, regardless of nationality or status.
The APR can be searched by name, by type of artist and date. For example, it is possible to search for all listed sculptors between 1890 and 1900. It is also possible to search for records by repository, and by repositories in a particular region.
Some information on the APR duplicates information held on the National Register of Archives. However, many collections which do not appear on the NRA have been included, including small collections which consist of only a few or single items.
5. Records recently received by other archives
Many archives regularly take in new records to add to their collections – this process is known as accessioning. Every year, The National Archives collects information about new accessions from 250 archives across Britain and Ireland. This is known as the annual Accessions to Repositories’ survey. This information is added to Discovery, our catalogue.
Accessions to repositories and the thematic digests are searchable by date and theme, so it is possible to view themed additions to collections received each year.
The thematic digests are also distributed for publication in a number of learned journals and newsletters.
6. Relevant repositories
These repositories and institutions hold major collections relating to the history of art and artists.
6.1 General repositories
British Library, Manuscript Collections The British Library holds papers of many of Britain’s foremost artists including William Blake, John Flaxman, William Hogarth, Thomas Gainsborough, William Morris and JMW Turner. The British Library catalogue for manuscript collections is available online.
The National Archives holds records relating to the establishment of many national museums and art galleries as well as various public bodies which have been set up to watch over art education and the export of works of art. You can search Discovery, our catalogue to see what records are available.
6.2 Specialist repositories
Bankside Gallery holds the archives of the Royal Society of Painters in Watercolour, founded in 1804, and those of the Royal Society of Painter-Etchers and Engravers.
Courtauld Institute of Art The Courtauld Institute’s Book Library holds manuscript collections including the papers of a variety of collectors and patrons, researchers and artists. Many of these were donated to the Institute. Information on the Book Library and manuscript collections is available from the website.
Federation of British Artists holds the records of its constituent societies: the Hesketh Hubbard Society, the New English Art Club, the Pastel Society, the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours, the Royal Society of British Artists, the Royal Society of Marine Artists, the Royal Society of Portrait Painters and the Society of Wildlife Artists.
Fitzwilliam Museum Collections of the Department of Manuscripts and Printed Books include manuscripts of Sir Joshua Reynold’s Adaptation of Talents; and William Morris’s The Earthly Paradise; correspondence and literary papers of John Flaxman; correspondence and papers of Sir Edward Burne-Jones and George Romney; literary manuscripts of William Blake and correspondence and papers of many other artists.
Glasgow School of Art Archives are an excellent resource for art, design, architecture, art education and development of these disciplines along with the many influential people who have taught and studied there. The Archives include the School’s institutional records and a number of archive collections deposited by former staff, students and related organisations. Information on the collections is available online.
Henry Moore Institute The Henry Moore Institute houses and maintains the Leeds Museums & Galleries archive of sculptors’ papers including Henry Moore. Covering the 18th century to the present day, it has a particular emphasis on the 20th century and contains a diverse range of papers relating to British sculptural practice. Information on the collections is available online.
Kettle’s Yard Museum and Art Gallery holds the correspondence between Jim Ede, the founder of the gallery, and contemporary artists. It hosts ‘Recollection’, an expanding oral history archive that reflects how people of all ages think and feel about Kettle’s Yard.
Leighton House Museum The former home and studio of the leading Victorian artist, Frederic, Lord Leighton, is now a museum holding his papers, including correspondence with family and friends.
National Gallery Libraries and Archive The collection includes papers connected with the history of the picture collection and official records of the Gallery.
Scottish National Gallery Research Library The Gallery maintains research files on all items in its collections of pictures, drawings and sculptures. Information on collections held in the National Gallery of Scotland Library is available online.
National Library of Scotland, Manuscript Collections Among the extensive personal collections held by the Library, there are papers of numerous artists, painters and sculptors. The information about the manuscript collections helds by the National Library of Scotland is online.
National Library of Wales holds several important collections of papers of artists relating to Wales, including Augustus John, Gwen John, Lord Leighton, Ceri Richards and Sir Edward Burne-Jones.
National Museum of Wales maintains files on artists represented in the collections of the Museum.
National Portrait Gallery Archive is concerned with the history of the Gallery and the history of British portraiture. Amongst the collections are papers of Thomas Phillips, Sir John Everett Millais and George Romney. Information on the papers is available online.
Royal Academy of Arts The Library, established in 1771, holds the archives of the Academy as well as a collection of Summer Exhibition catalogues, the records of the Society of Artists 1759-1807 and the papers of various past members of the Academy. This includes the papers of Sir Thomas Lawrence, sitters’ books of Angelica Kauffmann and Sir Joshua Reynolds and papers of Thomas Gainsborough, Alma-Tadema, Lord Leighton and Walter Sickert. Information on the collections is available online.
Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce also referred to as the Society of Arts and the Royal Society of Arts (from 1908), holds the Society’s records from its foundation in 1754, including minutes and correspondence, original design material and donated papers of members. There is a catalogue available online.
Ruskin Library holds correspondence, literary manuscripts and family papers of John Ruskin, together with many items of Ruskin’s correspondence with prominent figures in the Victorian art world. Information on the collections is available online.
Scottish National Portrait Gallery holds a small collection of personal papers relating to Scottish portrait painters and maintains a reference archive of portrait works held in private collections and research files on items its collections. Information on the collections is available online.
Tate Gallery Archive holds the national archive of 20th century British art. Major collections include the papers of William Holman Hunt, Paul Nash, David Bomberg, Stanley Spencer, Alfred Turner, John Piper, Ben Nicholson and the art historian, Lord Clarke. Other major figures from the British art world represented are Sir Jacob Epstein, Dame Barbara Hepworth, John Minton, Sir Eduardo Paolozzi and Walter Sickert. Interviews with artists, press cuttings and photographs of artists are also held. Information on the collections and a catalogue are available online.
Victoria and Albert Museum, Archive of Art and Design The Archive of Art and Design was set up in 1978 to hold papers which would formerly have been collected by curatorial departments of the Victoria and Albert Museum. The collections have a particular emphasis on the 20th century. Major collections include papers of the publisher Benhard Baer, his correspondence with Lowry, Ben Nicholson, Graham Sutherland, Henry Moore and other British artists and sculptors. The Archive of Art and Design also holds the records of the Arts Council of Great Britain. The Victoria and Albert Museum’s own archive is also located here.
Victoria and Albert Museum, National Art Library, the largest art library in the world, it holds documentary material concerning the fine and decorative arts of many countries and periods. It is also the curatorial department for the art, craft and design of the book. Amongst the manuscript collections are papers of Sir Edwin Landseer, Thomas Gainsborough, Sir Thomas Lawrence, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Graham Sutherland as well as many other artists, writers, curators and art critics, societies and dealers. Information on the collections and a catalogue are available online.
Wallace Collection Extensive archives relating to the art and object collections were built up by the Marquesses of Hertford in the 19th century and bequeathed to the nation by Lady Wallace, including a large number of 18th and 19th century sales catalogues, records of founders and trustees. Information on material held by the Wallace Collection is available online. In addition administrative records of the Wallace Collection are held by The National Archives.
William Morris Gallery William Morris lived in this house from 1848-1856. It now holds a permanent collection illustrating his life, achievements and influence. Archival collections include correspondence and writings of William Morris and his associates, such as Arthur Mackmurdo and Frank Brangwyn.
6.3 Overseas institutions
Many collections of correspondence and papers of British artists are held by foreign institutions, especially those in America. Foremost among these are the Huntington Library, California, and the Houghton Library, Harvard University, Massachusetts.
The Find an archive tool includes a list of overseas repositories holding collections relating to British history.
6.4 Local record offices
Local record offices also hold collections relating to art and artists, including family papers of art collectors and patrons, records relating to an artist’s personal background and the papers of local art societies and art clubs.
Addresses and contact details for local record offices in the UK are available via the Find an archive tool.
6.5 Schools of art
Many art colleges hold their own records which contain rich information on art education over the last 150 years. These records are likely to include governors’ minute books, letter books, registers of students, prospectuses and annual reports. Some colleges (such as Edinburgh College of Art) have their own facilities for accommodating researchers; others have deposited their records in local or national institutions.
7. Useful links
The Archives Hub provides a single point of access to descriptions of archives held in UK universities and colleges. At present these are listed mainly at collection level, although where possible they are linked to complete catalogue descriptions.
Archives in London and the M25 area – AIM25 – is a major project to provide electronic access to collection level descriptions of the archives of over 50 higher education institutions and learned societies within the greater London area.
The British Cartoon Archive is dedicated to the history of British cartooning over the last two hundred years. The BCA holds the artwork for more than 150,000 British editorial, socio-political, and pocket cartoons, supported by large collections of comic strips, newspaper cuttings, books and magazines.
Scottish Archive Network (SCAN) – the project aims to revolutionise access to Scotland’s archives by providing a single electronic catalogue to the holdings of more than 50 Scottish archives.
8. Further reading
The principal biographical reference works for artists are the international works by Ulrich Thieme and Felix Becker (edited by Hans Vollmer), Allgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Kunstler von der Antike bis zur Gegenwart (37 vols, 1965-1966), and Emmanuel Benezit, Dictionnaire critique et documentaire des peintres, sculpteurs, dessinateurs et graveurs de tous les temps et de tous les pays par un groupe d’ecrivains specialistes francais et etrangers (10 vols, 1976).
There is no single English language work comparable. The largest art and artists dictionary in English is Jane Turner (ed), The dictionary of art (34 vols, 1996).
Researchers might also make use of the series of the Dictionary of British art series, published by the Antique Collectors Club (ACC). The volumes currently available are:
Christopher Wood, Victorian painters (1995)
J Johnson and A Greutzner, British artists 1880-1940 (1976)
Frances Spalding, 20th century painters and sculptors (1991)
David Buckman, Dictionary of artists in Britain since 1945 (1998)
Other publications by the ACC in a similar useful style include:
Simon Houfe, The dictionary of British book illustrators and caricaturists, 1800-1914 (1978)
Ellis Waterhouse, The dictionary of British 18th century painters in oils and crayons (1981)
A further general biographical reference work of use generally is Who’s who in art, which has been occasionally published since 1927. Also:
Bryans Dictionary of painters and engravers (5 vols, 1925)
Rupert Gunnis, Dictionary of British sculptors 1660-1851 (1951)
Alan Winsor (ed), A handbook of modern British painting 1900-80 (1992)
Alan Winsor (ed), A checklist of painters in the Witt Library c1200-1994 (1995)