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Tate Archive is 50: A journey through the world’s largest archive of British art

A special display to celebrate Tate Archive’s 50th anniversary


12 October 2020 – Autumn 2021
Marie-Louise von Motesiczky Archive Gallery, Lower Level, Tate Britain
Open daily 10.00 – 18.00
For public information call +44(0)20 7887 8888, visit or follow @Tate

A new display celebrates Tate Archive’s 50th anniversary with a journey through British art from 1600 to the 2000s. Featuring items from over 100 archive collections, it tells the story of new beginnings, historic moments and personal histories. From sketchbooks and drawings to unpublished photographs and letters, the display presents a series of treasures from the world’s largest archive of British art, including Vanessa Bell, John Constable, Lubaina Himid, Derek Jarman, L.S. Lowry, Ronald Moody, Marlow Moss, Donald Rodney and Jo Spence amongst many others.

The display includes a special focus on the 20th century, with material selected for each year from 1900-1999. Highlights include Derek Jarman’s handcrafted sketchbook A blueprint for Bliss (1989), featuring detailed writings in gold on painted blue pages giving an insight into the early stages of what became his film Blue. Sketchbook 1 (1982-83) by Donald Rodney brings together preliminary studies with a collection of postcards, while recently discovered photographs show paintings and sculptures by renowned abstract artist Marlow Moss taken in the 1940s. Also presented is L.S. Lowry’s small sketch, Mill at Farnworth, 1921, found amongst items compiled for a close friend and his son.

A series of accounts and letters by artists and writers give personal insights into different moments of the twentieth century. In the original typescript for his broadcast of An Exile Looks Back for Caribbean Survey, Jamaican-born sculptor Ronald Moody recounts his impressions of arriving in the UK in the 1920s. Rare items on show include the programme for Yoko Ono’s event at the pioneering Destruction in Art symposium in London in 1966 shown with a fragment of Biba fabric from her performance of Cut Piece, and First World War medals belonging to sculptor Julian Phelps Allan OBE. Further highlights include materials from The Thin Black Line, one of three important exhibitions curated by Lubaina Himid in the early 1980s which marked the arrival on the British art scene of a radical generation of young Black and Asian women artists.

Table cases explore fascinating items from before 1900, including an illustrated letter from John Constable to his wife Maria with Constable’s never-before-seen administration of his goods, as he died without leaving a Will, and a letter from Queen Victoria’s private secretary to portrait painter John Alfred Vinter requesting prints of attendant John Brown, 1883.

The display reveals the evolution of important arts organisations, alongside artist-led groups, collectives and venues that shone brightly for a brief period, from Vanessa Bell’s letter about the Friday Club, to material documenting Jo Spence co-founding the Hackney Flashers, and flyers relating to the Brixton Artists Collective’s exhibitions at the Brixton Art Gallery in the 1980s. Images of Wyndham Lewis and others at the Rebel Arts Centre in 1914 are exhibited along with a selection of materials relating to the Omega workshop, the design collective established by Roger Fry in 1913. The display highlights unusual stories of British art, including a photograph capturing Salvador Dalí’s infamous performance in a diving suit in 1936 at the International Surrealist exhibition, New Burlington Galleries, London. Tate Archive is 50: A Journey through the World’s Largest Archive of British Art is curated by Adrian Glew, Archivist, Tate and the Archive team (Andrey Lazarev, Clare Sexton, Darragh O’Donoghue, Derek Rice, Federica Berretta, Nastasia Alberti, Peter Eaves and Victoria Jenkins). Every precaution has been taken to make visiting the galleries a safe and enjoyable experience. To ensure people can keep a safe distance from each other, all visitors, including Members, now need to book a timed ticket in advance to visit the collection displays or exhibitions. This can be done through the online booking system:

Notes to editors


The idea for Tate Archive arose in the 1960s as the then Director of Tate, Sir Norman Reid became concerned that art archives were being lost to research in this country. A call to artists, in 1970, helped establish what has become a national centre for documenting fine art practice in the UK. Fifty years later, Tate Archive holds more than 1,000 collections, containing over 20 million pieces, and is now the world’s largest archive for British art.

Located at Tate Britain, the archive collections comprise a wide range of materials such as letters, diaries, sketches, photographs, exhibition histories, audio-visual material and increasingly, born-digital material – all of which relate to artists, art practice, and art world figures and organisations.
Tate Archive is free to use. To consult collections, researchers need to register and make an appointment to visit the Hyman Kreitman Reading Rooms at Tate Britain, which are currently open Tuesdays and Fridays 11.00–15.00. Email or call +44 020 7887 8838.
Before visiting, researchers can search for materials of interest from the catalogued holdings by using the online catalogue (, and browse more than 65,000 digitised items and pieces on Tate’s website at

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