British Council Collection comes home to UK

To celebrate our 75th Anniversary we are working with British artists and museum directors on a series of five exhibitions drawn from the British Council Collection for the Whitechapel Gallery, London.

The first exhibition, Passports: Great Early Buys from the British Council Collection runs from 5 April - 14 June and comprises 27 works selected by artist Michael Craig-Martin and Andrea Rose, Director Visual Arts, British Council.

Michael Craig-Martin has chosen to focus on the Collection’s great strengths – buying from artists at early stages in their careers and showing works of art internationally. The exhibition provides the price paid by the British Council for each and a ‘passport’ recording its foreign travels, showing where the work has been shown across the world and providing a unique insight into the Collection’s international purpose.

The exhibition of British 20th and 21st Century art includes Lucian Freud’s early masterpiece, Girl with Roses (1947-8), a psychologically charged portrait of the artist’s first wife Kitty. The work has travelled to more than 25 countries and featured in over 80 exhibitions since it was acquired for £157 in 1948. A rare early carving in Cumberland alabaster by Henry Moore called Girl with Clasped Hands (1930) is shown next to Bridget Riley’s first major painting in colour, Cataract 3 (1967). Peter Doig’s Hill Houses, 1990-91 was bought by the British Council after he won the Whitechapel Artists’ Award in 1991 at the very beginning of his career. The exhibition also includes key works by David Hockney, Gilbert & George, Paul Nash and Ben Nicholson, as well as later works by artists such as Damien Hirst, Chris Ofili and Sarah Lucas.

Following on throughout 2009, three further guest curators will present displays drawn from the Collection. The fifth and final exhibition will be the result of an international competition, to provide an opportunity for aspiring curators worldwide to work with the Collection.

Iwona Blazwick OBE, Director, Whitechapel Gallery, said:

 "The British Council Collection is a jewel, and tells the story of British art over the last 100 years. The Whitechapel Gallery is delighted to be able to show these important works to the British public, many for the first time in the UK."

The British Council Collection displays will be presented in the Whitechapel Gallery’s new dedicated Collections Gallery, a beautiful original Victorian exhibition space flooded with natural light through a glazed ceiling. It will provide unprecedented access to important public, private art collections and important artists’ holdings which are rarely seen.

Passports exhibition installed at Whitechapel Gallery, London

Passports exhibition installed at Whitechapel Gallery, London
Works (left to right) by Henry Moore, Damien Hirst, Anish Kapoor, Peter Doig, Anya Gallaccio and Graham Sutherland
© British Council

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