Collections Overview

The Yale Center for British Art holds the largest and most comprehensive collection of British art outside the United Kingdom. The Center’s collections of paintings, sculpture, drawings, prints, photographs, rare books, and manuscripts present the story of British art and culture, and its global contexts, from the fifteenth century to today. Together with the Reference Library and Institutional Archives, the collections are an exceptional resource for anyone interested in British art and its histories. 

Paul Mellon, Founder

Located in a building designed by architect Louis I. Kahn, the Center’s collections were the gift of Paul Mellon (1907–1999), a graduate of Yale College (Class of 1929). The particular strength in the collection in the art and books of the long eighteenth century reflect the taste and enthusiasms of Paul Mellon.

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The Center’s Collections

  • 2,000 paintings and 250 sculptures from the late medieval to the contemporary
  • 20,000 drawings and watercolors, and 35,000 prints giving a comprehensive history of British graphic art
  • Over 3,000 photographs in a growing collection from the birth of photography to contemporary practice
  • 35,000 rare books and manuscripts from the fifteenth century to the present, including the J. R. Abbey collection of “color-plate” books, sporting material, early maps and atlases, incunables, private press and contemporary artists’ books, and manuscripts covering British artists of all periods
  • More than 40,000 reference volumes and a photo archive supporting research in British art and related fields
  • 3,000 cubic feet in analog records and 8TB of born-digital records documenting the history of the Center and its programs, and the personal papers of associated individuals

Britain in the World: A Display of the Collections

In 2016, the third phase of a multiyear building conservation project was completed, and visitors can experience a renewed masterpiece of modern architecture by Louis I. Kahn and a reimagined installation of the Center’s collections. Nearly four hundred works, largely the gift of the institution’s founder, Paul Mellon (Yale College, Class of 1929), and augmented by other gifts, loans, and purchases, are on display in the restored galleries on the fourth and second floor.

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New light on a portrait of Elihu Yale, his family, and an enslaved child

A curatorial team at the Center was formed to work on a problematic eighteenth-century group portrait that depicts Yale University’s early benefactor Elihu Yale and an enslaved child of African descent. The goal of this ongoing research project, instigated by Director Courtney J. Martin, is to make transparent the history of the painting in Center’s collection and the multiple ways in which it has been explored in the past.

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Explore the Center's Collections

Over 100,000 records from the Paintings and Sculpture, Prints and Drawings, Rare Books and Manuscripts, Reference Library, and Institutional Archives collections are searchable online, along with nearly all of the Center's historic frames.

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Philippe Mercier, The Sense of Sight (detail), 1744 to 1747