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Tate Digitizes 52,000 Artifacts from the Lives of British Artists

Paul Nash, Black and white negative of a cow in Swanage (date unknown) (© Tate, Paul Nash Trust)
Paul Nash, Black and white negative of a cow in Swanage (date unknown) (© Tate, Paul Nash Trust)

Around 52,000 letters, sketchbooks, photographs, and other ephemera of 20th-century British artists will be accessible online by next summer. The first 6,000 items were revealed this month as part of the Tate Archive.

Watercolor of Florence in a sketchbook used by Henry Scott Tuke (1858-1929) (© Tate)
Watercolor of Florence in a sketchbook used by Henry Scott Tuke (1858-1929) (© Tate) (click to enlarge)

Reported Tuesday by the Guardian, the project complements the 70,000 artworks already digitized by the Tate. “Integrating these items with the online collection will allow people to search, browse and make links between archive items and collection works,” the Tate Archive website states. The London institution has over a million items relating to British artists dating back to 1900, making it largest archive on British art in the world, so the thousands of items are only a fraction of what’s available, but has long been invisible to off-site researchers.

The materials on the 14 individual artists initially featured include sculptor Kenneth Armitage’s letters to his wife, photographs by Nigel Henderson, sculptural record books from Barbara Hepworth, and sketchbooks by Graham Sutherland. The materials give personal insight and context to their lives and practice, like love letters from painter Paul Nash to his wife, such as one where he sketches her in profile; a letter from sculptor Jacob Epstein about how much he hated Winston Churchill’s art; and Henderson’s photographs of London street scenes, where apparently he was fond of the city cats.

Many of the materials have a Creative Commons license. The massive digitization project, supported by a Heritage Lottery Fund grant, seems like a promising step in better access to these historic archives. Linked into their main Tate artist pages, like here for Graham Sutherland, the materials can create a fuller digital portrait of the artists.

Cover of a sketchbook used by Graham Sutherland between 1942 and 1943 (© Tate, The estate of Graham Sutherland)
Cover of a sketchbook used by Graham Sutherland between 1942 and 1943 (© Tate, The estate of Graham Sutherland)

View all of the digitized artist materials at the Tate Archive.

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