Long Gallery, Yale Center for British Art, photo by © Elizabeth Felicella / ESTO

Collections Departments

The Center’s collecting departments present the story of British art and culture, and its global contexts, from the sixteenth century to the present day. Together with the Reference Library and Institutional Archives, the Center’s collections are an exceptional resource for anyone interested in British art and its histories.

Paintings and Sculpture

The Department of Paintings and Sculpture is responsible for a collection of over 2,000 paintings and 250 sculptures from the late medieval to the contemporary. Particularly strong in the period from 1720 to 1850, the collection is unrivaled in the depth and comprehensiveness of its representation of painting from this era, especially in telling the stories of portrait, landscape, and sporting art. The Center also has the finest group of paintings by George Stubbs, John Constable, and J. M. W. Turner in North America. The collection accepts implicitly the transnational character of British painting and is strong in the art of the British Empire and increasingly in the art of the postcolonial present. Sculpture is represented by outstanding examples of portraits in different media, animalier bronzes, and ideal marbles, as well as important modern and contemporary work by such artists as Rachel Whiteread and Yinka Shonibare CBE RA.

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Alfred Joseph Woolmer, Interior of the British Institution (Old Master Exhibition, Summer 1832) (detail), 1833

Prints and Drawings

The Department of Prints and Drawings is responsible for more than 20,000 drawings and watercolors, 35,000 prints, and 3,000 photographs from the sixteenth century to now. The collection is wide-ranging, from Tudor drawings and portrait miniatures to outstanding examples of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century watercolors by notable artists such as William Blake, J. M. W. Turner, and John Constable, to architectural drawings, and works relating to the former British Empire, especially the Subcontinent, the Caribbean, and the African diaspora. The collection has exceptional topographical prints, caricatures, mezzotint portraits, sporting art, and modern and contemporary prints, as well as a growing collection of photographs from the birth of photography to now.

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Thomas Rowlandson, An Audience Watching a Play at Drury Lane Theatre (detail), ca. 1785

Rare Books and Manuscripts

The Department of Rare Books and Manuscripts holds approximately 35,000 volumes. The collection represents a broad range of material relating to the visual arts and cultural life in the United Kingdom and the former British Empire, dating from the fifteenth century to the present. Particular strengths include illustrated “color-plate” books from the renowned J. R. Abbey collection, drawing manuals, sporting books and manuscripts, early maps and atlases, early printed books, private press and contemporary artists’ books, as well as archival and manuscript material relating to British artists, writers, and travelers of all periods. Recent collecting areas include textiles, cartes de visite, photographic albums, printed ephemera, children’s games, and viewing devices.

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Helmingham Herbal and Bestiary (folios 17v-18r; detail), 1500

Reference Library and Photograph Archives

The Reference Library collections include all of the essential reference works on British artists but also contain resources on British architecture, print and book culture, performing arts, costume, town and county histories, and travel books. The Reference Library maintains a growing and vital collection of art conservation and technical analysis materials and offers stations for viewing a rich collection of the Center’s past lectures and programs.

The Photograph Archives, located within the Reference Library, is a study collection of almost 150,000 photographic reproductions of British works of art from the sixteenth to the early twentieth century. The archive represents both public and private collections worldwide with a particular focus on collections in the United States, Canada, and Australia.

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Institutional Archives

The Center’s Institutional Archives is the official repository for all historical documentation of the Yale Center for British Art, recording its development from its inception in the mid-1960s to the present. The holdings include information on past exhibitions, publications, programs, and events, as well as the art collections, and the Louis Kahn building and its subsequent renovations and conservation. The Institutional Archives also holds collections pertaining to the life and collecting of Paul Mellon, and organizations and individuals affiliated with the Center, past and present.

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Fred Wales and Paul Mellon during construction of the Yale Center for British Art, 1974, photo by William B. Carter