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Art Collections

British books, journals and other publications relating to the study of fine, applied, and popular art have been received comprehensively since the middle of the 19th century, complemented by manuscripts and sound recordings.

Research level books published overseas but distributed in this country are received through Legal Deposit as well - notably books from the United States. Through purchase and exchange the Library acquires the catalogues of major overseas collections and exhibitions and other foreign publications of academic standard in this field. British and European treatises on art from earlier periods are also held.

The collections include:

  • general theoretical works
  • studies of movements, periods, and individual artists
  • dictionaries and encyclopedias of art and other works of reference
  • periodicals on art, including indexes to prices
  • Sale Catalogues, including unique sets annotated by the auctioneer
  • Manuscripts letters by artists from Michelangelo to Roger Fry and beyond.
  • Sound Archive recordings by artists speaking about their work
  • practical manuals on different techniques
  • catalogues raisonn√©s
  • exhibition catalogues
Illustration by Lucien Freud from The Glass Tower

Image reproduced with the kind permission of the artist, Lucien Freud. Taken from The Glass Tower, poems by Nicholas Moore, with drawings by Lucien Freud. Editions Poetry London, and Nicholson and Watson, 1944. British Library shelfmark: 11656.p.24. ©


Through a special arrangement with the National Art Library (NAL) at the Victoria and Albert Museum, many British exhibition catalogues received by Legal Deposit are catalogued individually by the NAL and deposited there, where they are available for consultation.

Through Images Online a growing number of British Library collection images can be purchased online.

Books as Works of Art and other visual materials

Many items in the collections can be considered as works of art in their own right, notably the Library's Treasures, and its substantial collections of Fine Presses, Artists' Books, and Book Arts.

The Library has particular strengths in:

The Library has digitised a number of these items through projects such as Turning the Pages, the Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts, and the Early Printed Collections Digitisation Projects.

Many images are also available for purchase through Images Online.

The Library's Exhibition Galleries present a selection of collection items often with strong visual qualities, and a selection of Previous Exhibitions is mounted online. Sculpture, photographs and paintings are on display throughout the Library.

Other Art Libraries and organisations

The Library has an agreement with the Victoria and Albert Museum for a collaborative approach to developing and promoting their respective collections of art related publications.

The British Library's Art: A Guide to Resources includes further information on other art libraries and on reference resources held within the British Library:

  • Art Reference Resources within the British Library
  • Art Electronic Resources within the British Library
  • Art Electronic Journals within the British Library
  • Art Internet Resources including Art Libraries, Associations, and Catalogues
  • ARLIS UK & Ireland Art Libraries Society