Research Collections

Photographic Archive

The Photographic Archive comprises mounted reference images in two collections: The Paul Mellon Centre Photographic Archive and The Tate Photographic Archive. The collections cover British painting and drawing from approximately 1500 to 2000 and is particularly strong on the work of 18th century artists

The Photographic Archive was founded in 1964 with the desire to document British art and provide a photographic service for scholars. The current size of the photographic archive is estimated to be about 185,000 reference photographs with about 30,000 negatives. The overall focus of the subject matter remains in the 18th century with particularly strong holdings for key artists such as Reynolds, Gainsborough, Constable and Ramsay.

Paul Mellon Centre Photographic Archive 

A collection of approximately 150,000 reference photographs of British paintings, decorative painting, sculpture, drawings and prints covering the period 1500-1900 with some files into the twentieth Century. It has a particular emphasis on the eighteenth century. The images were collected by staff from a variety of sources including, in particular, in-house photography undertaken by the Centre in relation to its publication activities; the Courtauld photographic survey and sales catalogues. Images have been mounted on card and include provenance information. The majority of the images are black and white. The collection contains the following sequences:

Artists A-Z ; Unidentified Artists; Sculptors A-Z ;Sculpture by location; Decorative painting; Sketchbooks, Albums of drawings, rare books & collections of prints and drawings; Paul Mellon Collection of Paintings; Paul Mellon Collection of Prints and Drawings; Sculpture in the Caribbean; 

Active collecting of images for the Paul Mellon Centre Photographic Archive ended in December 2013.

Tate Photographic Archive 

A collection of approximately 35,000 reference photographs of British paintings, drawings and prints covering the period 1500 to the twentieth century. The reference resource was created, compiled and used by curators working at Tate and acquired by the Paul Mellon Centre in 2009. The collection comprises a single sequence of ca.350 boxes arranged alphabetically by artist. Material concerning some of the major artists (including Turner, for example) was not transferred at the time of acquisition. 

Both collections have been completely catalogued. To browse the records, search by artist name on the library catalogue. Please note that the number of mounts in the file is not indicated on the catalogue. It is also possible to search the Paul Mellon Centre collection by subject, sitter, British and foreign locations using a card index which is available to in-person visitors.

Future of the Photographic Archive

The Centre is a member of PHAROS, an international consortium of Photo Archives established to create a common platform for research on images of works of art in all media, both Western and non-Western, through comprehensive consolidated access to photograph archives. This freely available commons is designed to stimulate research in a broad spectrum of fields by linking together for the first time all of the images and their formal documentation with knowledge amassed by scholars over the years. Consolidated access to tens of millions of images of works of art will be of immeasurable value to scholarship and teaching for a wide range of art-historical research topics including provenance and attribution, conservation research, exhibition research, publication history, the history of photography, the history of art history, and a myriad of other points of information that we can hardly imagine. The project will also foster a greater understanding of the photograph as physical object and its critical role in the dissemination of knowledge.

The Centre is in the early stages of assessing its Photographic Archives and in deciding how it wil contribute to the PHAROS initiative.

PHAROS project participants are:

  • Bibliotheca Hertziana, Rome
  • Bildarchiv Foto Marburg, Germany
  • Courtauld Institute of Art, London
  • Frick Art Reference Library, New York
  • Fondazione Federico Zeri, Bologna
  • Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles
  • Institut National d’Histoire de l’Art, Paris
  • Kunsthistorisches Institut, Florence
  • National Gallery of Art, Washington
  • Paul Mellon Centre, London
  • Rijksbureau voor Kunsthistorische Documentatie, The Hague
  • Villa I Tatti, Florence
  • Warburg Institute, London
  • Yale Center for British Art, New Haven