Archives & Library

The Paul Oppé Library and Archive

Adolphus Paul Oppé (1878-1957) was an art historian and collector with a particular interest in British drawings and watercolours from the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.


The library consists of books, exhibition catalogues, auction catalogues and periodicals from Oppé’s personal collection, totalling more than 1,300 items. Included are copies of Oppé’s own published works and material relating to his research interests, particularly early British drawings and watercolours. Other prominent subjects include artists’ biographies, practical works on colour and artistic technique, and works on aesthetics and the philosophy of art.

The Oppé library as a whole spans a period of more than four hundred years, from the sixteenth through to the twentieth century. Most of the books are printed in English, with significant holdings in French, Italian, German and Dutch.

Row of books with leather spines upright.

Early printed books from Oppé’s collection at the beginning of the cataloguing project, Paul Oppé Library

The exhibition catalogues are largely from the twentieth century and were mostly collected by Oppé from exhibitions he attended personally: many are annotated, sometimes over multiple visits. The auction catalogues relate to sales of significant art collections; included are a number of rare eighteenth-century catalogues of which few other copies are recorded. The collection contains a small number of periodical issues, many of which include articles authored by Oppé.

Although Oppé owned a significant number of early printed books, the condition of an item does not appear to have been a priority for him when making purchases, with many volumes showing signs of wear. The collection is primarily that of a working researcher. Marginal annotations in Oppé’s precise, distinctive script are common, and he also used his books for filing purposes, inserting correspondence, research notes and illustrations between the pages. In addition, Oppé frequently received books as gifts from friends and family members.

Archive boxes on a shelf.

Early items in the Oppé library are in the process of being measured for acid-free boxes, Paul Oppé Library

The library is also valuable beyond its immediate relation to Oppé’s life and work, with many of the earlier texts showing the provenance markings of previous owners. Books in the collection bear inscriptions and bookplates of artists, historians, politicians and other prominent figures: these include the British art historian Sir Lionel Cust (1859–1929), the American expatriate artist John Singer Sargent (1856–1925), and Prince Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex (1773–1843), the sixth son of King George III. Most of the books in the library are bound in styles and materials typical of their eras, though some of the earliest books have been rebound by later owners.

The Oppé Library has been fully catalogued and is available for consultation; please see the Library Special Collections information page for details of how to access this material.