About the project

Voices of art champions a rich and unusually detailed spoken word history of British art of the 20th and 21st centuries. Art historians and others working in the field of visual arts have written essays in response to Artists’ Lives, an oral history project run by National Life Stories at the British Library. Within the text of each essay are a series of playable audio extracts from Artists’ Lives enabling readers to listen to the first-hand testimony of artists and those in related professions.

Among the voices in the 98 audio extracts within the essays are artists Eileen Agar (1899–1991), Anthony Caro (1924–2013), Robyn Denny (1930–2014), Sheila Girling (1924–2015), Richard Smith (1931–2016) and Richard Wentworth (born 1947). Alongside their accounts are audio contributions from art historians, curators, three former Directors of Tate (Norman Reid, Alan Bowness and Nicholas Serota) whose successive careers with the gallery cover the years 1946–2017, and the vivacious former Bond Street gallery owner, John Kasmin.

Artists’ Lives creates spoken life stories which discuss each person’s career within the broader picture of their biographies. In this sense Artists’ Lives recordings differ from many other interviews with artists. This approach provides fascinating cross-references among the speakers, illustrating the interconnectedness of the different roles within the art world and the importance of personal friendships and rivalries.

From Agar’s recollections of the academic and insular views of her tutor, Henry Tonks, at the Slade School of Fine Art in the 1920s, the essays go on to investigate the shifting influences on British art. They highlight the dramatic effect in the 1950s of the work of American Abstract Expressionists first being shown in London, and the energetic changes within the art world of the 1960s and 1970s as artists mirrored and sometimes led shifts in the wider society.

Each audio extract is illustrated with a photograph, many drawn from private family collections and not otherwise available. The essays are personal in tone, serving as an introduction to the periods under consideration and are accessible to the general reader as well as to A Level students and more senior researchers.

Audio extracts on Voices of art are accompanied by links directing readers to full life story recordings and written summaries where these are available online.

Voices of art also hosts a series of teaching resources tailored to the curriculum for A Level History of Art.

National Life Stories is very grateful to the Paul Mellon Centre for making this website possible.

Artists’ Lives

Artists’ Lives was started by National Life Stories in 1990 and is an ongoing project. It currently consists of nearly 400 life stories. We are grateful to all our sponsors but in particular to the steady support of The Henry Moore Institute, The Fleming Collection, The Rootstein Hopkins Foundation and The Yale Center for British Art. Open Artists’ Lives recordings can be heard online on the British Library Sounds website. Full summaries of the recordings can be word searched on the Sound and Moving Image Catalogue

Thanks to


Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art


Gareth Bell-Jones, Cathy Courtney, Ian Dunlop, Adrian Glew, Mel Gooding, Simon Martin, Thomas Powell, Duncan Robinson, Nicholas Serota, Rachel Rose Smith, Chris Stephens, Lisa Tickner, Sarah Victoria Turner, Richard Wentworth, Hester Westley, Jon Wood

Individuals and archives for contributing their images for use on Voices of art

Barford Sculptures Limited, Christopher Simon Sykes, Clive Phillpot, Collection Bowness family, Collection Denny family, Collection Jane Kasmin, Collection John Burton, Collection Kasmin, Collection Richard Morphet, Collection Smith Family, Estorick Collection, Frank Bowling Archive, John Latham Foundation, Marlborough Fine Art, London, Modern Art Oxford Archive, National Portrait Gallery, Roger Mayne Archive, Rowland Scherman, Royal College of Art, Sandra Lousada, Steve Tanner, Tate, Flowers Gallery, The Elisabeth Frink Estate and Archive

Special thanks to

John Christie for video editing services

Steve Tanner for providing the banner image for Voices of art:

The Voices of art banner image shows materials from the studio of Trevor Bell. Photograph © Steve Tanner. Image not licensed for reuse. Listen to Trevor Bell's Artists' Lives recording in full on BL Sounds.

Voices of art project team

Cathy Courtney

Voices of art Research Curator & Project Director for Artists’ Lives, National Life Stories at the British Library

Camille Johnston

Voices of art Web Co-ordinator

Mary Stewart

Deputy Director of National Life Stories & Curator, Oral History, The British Library 

David Govier

Former Oral History Archivist, National Life Stories at the British Library

Access and reuse guidelines

Essays on Voices of art are published using a creative commons license: CC BY-NC. This allows users to share and reuse the written content for non-commercial purposes, as long as the copyright holder is given full attribution. Further information is available on the Creative Commons website.

Images and photographs published on Voices of art have been sourced from a range of private collections and archives. Please refer to credit information attached to individual images for further details. Images are not licensed for reuse.