News

Paul Mellon Centre allocated Paul Oppé Library and Archive

  • 12 Dec 2018

accepted in lieu of Inheritance Tax by H. M. Government and allocated to the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, 2018. The Paul Mellon Centre is delighted to announce that it has been permanently allocated the Paul Oppé Library and Archive under the Acceptance in Lieu Scheme. This is a landmark in the Centre’s history.

The library of Adolph Paul Oppé (1878–1957), art historian and art collector, includes auction sale catalogues, printed books, and annotated and manuscript versions of his own books. The archive includes Oppé’s extensive series of diaries, notebooks, correspondence, travel notes and journals, as well as Oppé family papers.

Oppé was a British art historian, critic, art collector and museum official. Educated at New College, Oxford, he taught at both the University of St Andrews and Edinburgh (1902–5); worked as a civil servant at the Board of Education (1905–38); served as the Deputy Director at the V&A (1906–7 & 1910–13); and was elected as a Fellow of the British Academy (1952). Oppé’s collection of over 3,000 drawings from the period 1750–1850 was acquired by the Tate in 1996. He wrote many catalogues on English drawings in the Royal Collection at Windsor, as well as monographs on various artists, including Alexander Cozens, William Hogarth and Paul Sandby. He inaugurated the study of British drawings as a scholarly pursuit.

The Oppé Archive contains papers created in both a professional and personal capacity. Alongside material that reflects his work as an art historian, critic, museum official and art collector, it also includes a significant volume of correspondence with, and between, family members. At the heart of the archive is an extensive series of diaries and notebooks which were used to record professional appointments, every day activities and private thoughts. Together the material presents a great source of art-historical information relating to the first half of the twentieth century. 

The Oppé Library is a substantial collection; one of the Centre’s largest and most important single acquisitions. It largely consists of works on fine art, especially painting and drawing, and it includes many rare titles. Particularly notable from the Centre’s point of view are the collections of important sale catalogues from the 18th and 19th centuries and treatises on art from the same period. There are some early printed books from the 16th and 17th centuries that represent a departure for the Centre’s Library. This collection is more than the working library of an art historian of the time; it is the collection of a keen connoisseur and book collector and will augment the Centre’s library collections enormously.

Under the terms of the allocation, the material will not be available for consultation until it has been fully catalogued. The Paul Mellon Centre is keen to achieve this as soon as possible and over the next few months will be recruiting for two project posts: an archive cataloguer and a library cataloguer.

Acceptance in Lieu plays a vital role in enriching the UK’s public collections. The scheme is administered by Arts Council England and approval of potential cases lies with the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, who is advised by a panel of experts. Material allocated under the Acceptance-in-Lieu scheme is recognised as being of national importance. Highlights from 2017/18 include a masterpiece by one of the leading Dutch Golden Age painters, Jacob van Ruisdael; two portraits by one of Britain’s greatest painters of the 20th century, Lucian Freud; important material from the collection of award-winning film-maker Lord Attenborough; and the archive of the poet and literary critic Robert Bridges which includes the correspondence and literary manuscripts of the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins.

The Paul Mellon Centre would like to thank everyone involved in this exciting allocation. In the meantime, if you have any questions about the Paul Oppé Library and Archive, please contact Research Collections, collections@paul-mellon-centre.ac.uk.

The Acceptance in Lieu Annual Report 2017/2018 can be read online here.