British Council Collection
For more than 60 years the British Council has been collecting works of art, craft and design to promote abroad the achievements of our artists, craft practitioners and designers. The Collection, started in the late 1930s, with a modest group of works on paper has now grown to a collection of more than 8000 artworks covering all media and all aspects of British art and design of the 20th and 21st Centuries. The Collection has no permanent gallery and has been referred to as a 'Museum Without Walls'.
Artworks from the Collection are used to create exhibitions for the Visual Arts Department's international touring exhibition programme. These range from solo exhibitions of Britain’s leading artists, to group exhibitions exploring the inventiveness and range of today’s artists and designers. Artworks from the Collection not included in the touring exhibition programme may be lent to other major museum and gallery exhibitions in the UK. Artworks are also displayed in the British Council’s cultural centres in the 110 countries that we work in; many are displayed in our offices here in the UK, and a number are placed on long loan to museums and galleries overseas to enhance their holdings of British art.
The British Council Collection travels to all parts of the globe. In the early days of the Collection’s history, exhibitions for overseas touring consisted primarily of works on paper, as these were relatively easy to handle, could fit into the hold of an aircraft or the guards van of a train and were of modest value. As a result, the British Council Collection has rich holdings of graphic art covering the last 100 years, including important works by Gerald Brockhurst, Frank Short and James McBey; woodcuts by Gertrude Hermes, Edward Gordon Craig and Paul Nash; a comprehensive selection of works from the 1960s by artists such as Derek Boshier, Patrick Caulfield, David Hockney, Colin Self and Joe Tilson and contemporary portfolios by Damien Hirst, Gary Hume, Marc Quinn and Rachel Whiteread. The Collection also has fine examples of graphic work by Henry Moore which he presented to the British Council on the occasion of our 50th anniversary in 1984.
Although our craft and design holdings are limited, we have good examples of studio works by Michael Cardew; Hans Coper; Bernard Leach and Lucie Rie together with industrial designs by Eric Ravilious. We are committed to purchasing and promoting work by contemporary craft practitioners and designers and this is reflected in our exhibition programme. In more recent years, we have bought work by the design groups El Ultimo Grito and JAM; ceramic pieces by Stephen Dixon and Phillip Eglin, jewellery by Laura Potter and silverware by Diana Greenwood.
The British Council Collection was awarded the 2001 ARCO International Prize in recognition of its contribution to ‘promote, educate and inform about contemporary art’ on an international stage. This is not a study collection but a hard-working and flexible resource that introduces the achievements of successive generations of British artists to audiences worldwide. Although the Collection has been likened in the past to a Rolls Royce, on account of both its quality and its presence, its working life is closer in fact to that of a Land Rover, equally at home and fit for purpose whether serving in Almaty or Amsterdam, Sarajevo or Salamanca.