Archives & Library

Photo Archive Collections

The Photographic Archive are mounted reference images. There are 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 PMC collection is currently out of house being digitised at present. The Tate collection is still available.

Archival photograph placed on scanning plate by gloved hand The Paul Mellon Centre is in the process of digitising and cataloguing its institutional Photographic Archive collection. Recognising that these valuable photographic resources may be better utilised were they available for reference beyond our reading rooms, the Centre is committed to the digitisation of this collection in its entirety. This venture will offer unprecedented access to the Centre’s photographic archive collections and will supplement the organisation’s mission to support original research into the history of British art and architecture of all periods.

In 2018, we transferred the collection of approximately 150,000 reference photographs of British paintings, decorative painting, sculpture, drawings and prints collected since 1964 to an off-site facility for imaging. There, the front and back of each mount were photographed. The resulting images will – eventually – be made available for research through a new online “digitised collections” platform.

The whole of the Paul Mellon Centre Photographic Archive collection was taken out of circulation in 2018. Digitisation of the resource was completed in 2019, and the physical objects are now stored off-site. Transcription and cataloguing of the collection are currently in process. In the interim, we can provide access to the uncatalogued digitised files by appointment in our Public Study Room.

The Tate Photographic Archive is not included in this digitisation initiative, and remains available for consultation as per the usual arrangements.

Project Schedule:

  • 2018 – Digitisation
  • 2019 – Research, Cataloguing, Web Development
  • 2021 – Publication

This initiative is connected to the Centre’s ongoing collaboration with the PHAROS consortium, a digital assembly of photographic archive collections from fourteen European and North American art-historical research centres. It is anticipated that this freely available commons will 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. As a founding member, the Centre will add its images and catalogue data to the PHAROS corpus of materials.

We are actively seeking use-cases and feedback from researchers who utilise photographic archive collections. If you have any comments or suggestions, please contact the Digital Manager, Tom Scutt (