Tate Announces Uprecedented Access to Archives of Brit Art Stars

Barbara Hepworth telegram to Ben Nicholson

Among the Tate’s archival treasures: an intimate telegram from Barbara Hepworth to Ben Nicholson, dated 1931.
Photo: © The estate of Barbara Hepworth.

Thousands of love letters, crabby diatribes, intimate photos, and sales receipts from well-known British artists are now available for public scrutiny thanks to a new online archive launched by London’s Tate Gallery.

Part of the museum’s ambitious Archives and Access project, the program will make the Tate’s online archive of British art the largest in the world. As reported by Art Daily and others, the project is supported by a $3.2 million Heritage Lottery Fund grant, and contains many rare gems.

Love letters between Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth are now available, as well as over 100 letters by Walter Sickert.

Visitors can peruse 40 of Graham Sutherland’s sketchbooks filled with watercolors and drawings that have never been publicly shown. Hundreds of once-private photographs of Eduardo Paolozzi in all sorts of playful poses are here, and one can examine some 1,000 photographs that Paul Nash took during the First World War. All of this material appears in the first batch of some 6,000 digitized items now posted. Efforts to post 46,000 more items, mostly focused on 20th-century British art, are currently underway.

The revealing archives have already caused a stir. For instance, as noted by The Independent, acclaimed sculptor Sir Jacob Epstein scathingly dismissed Winston Churchill’s efforts as a painter. “Churchill has been made an RA and has three pictures in the Academy,” Epstein wrote his daughter, “…confirming what we always have thought that the amateur is supreme here in every walk of life.”

The Tate archive is sure to expose lots of other candid comments and offer further insight into some of the key figures in British art.

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