Tate unlocks vaults with worldwide access to unpublished archives of key British artists

By Richard Moss | 16 December 2014

Sketchbooks by Graham Sutherland and Keith Vaughan, lover letters written by Paul Nash and family letters from Ben Nicholson are among the British art treasures published online in a new venture from Tate

a notebook watercolour sketch of a wooded pathway
Graham Sutherland, sketchbook colour study for the Path in Wood theme. (circa 1957-1959)© The estate of Graham Sutherland. Image released under Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)
One of the richest and most comprehensive digital art and archival resources in Europe and the world’s largest archive of British Art - Tate Archive - is being made available online for a worldwide audience.

Sketchbooks, drawings, family photographs, personal letters and intimate diaries from artists including Paul Nash, Graham Sutherland, Jacob Epstein, Barbara Hepworth and Ben Nicholson will be available on the free archive, which has been supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund with a grant of £2 million.

Highlights of the project, which will be released in stages, include Barbara Hepworth’s sculpture records compiled by the artist throughout her life. They featuring original photographs, handwritten notes and details of exhibitions, giving a comprehensive record of her sculptures from 1925-1975.

Diary entries include tender love letters with intimate sketches sent by Paul Nash to his wife detailing their early life together as well as his service as a soldier and war artist during the First World War.

a page of a book with a sketch of castle on it
Page 186 of This is my Birthday 1902, compiled by author and journalist Anita Bartle in the tradition of a late Victorian keepsake© The estate of Anita Bartle & © The estate of Sir Muirhead Bone
Nash’s famous photographs of the English countryside - and his photographic studies of wrecked German aeroplanes in the breaking yards of World War Two, numbering more than 1,000 images - have also been digitised.

Among the many correspondences are fond letters to Ben Nicholson from his father, artist William Nicholson, giving an insight into their close relationship and a letter teasing "I am really concerned that you can’t even draw a toothpick...", as well as an illustrated ‘Happy New Year’ letter sent to Ben Nicholson and his then wife Barbara Hepworth.

Other highlights include 40 of Graham Sutherland’s fascinating sketchbooks filled with colourful gouache studies and drawings relating to major works, including his tapestry for Coventry Cathedral and one of Sutherland’s earliest surviving sketchbooks following his first visit to Pembrokeshire.

Many of the sketches and photographs have also been given a Creative Commons license to allow people to copy and share them for non-commercial uses.  

This first stage of the project has seen 6,000 items published online, including 15 collections relating to Kenneth Armitage, Anita Bartle, Stephen Gilbert, Thomas Cooper Gotch, Nigel Henderson, Josef Herman, Ethel Sands, Henry Scott Tuke and Keith Vaughan.

The digitisation of archives relating to a further 37 artists will be completed in summer 2015, including Eileen Agar, Prunella Clough and Kurt Schwitters.

Visitors can also create online ‘albums’ to group together archive items and artworks that they can add to, annotate and share. A series of films exploring all aspects of the project and a learning programme across the UK working in partnership with key art organisations have also been launched.

Explore the archive at tate.org.uk/art/archive.

a photo of German WWII plane wreckage
Paul Nash, Black and white negative, wrecked aeroplanes at the Cowley Dump© Tate. Image released under Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)
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