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Ben Nicholson holding his cat Tommy, 1968. Image by Felicitas Vogler, courtesy of Tate.

Tate launches access to unpublished archives of British artists

Ben Nicholson holding his cat Tommy, 1968. Image by Felicitas Vogler, courtesy of Tate.
Ben Nicholson holding his cat Tommy, 1968. Image by Felicitas Vogler, courtesy of Tate.
LONDON – Tate announced today that intimate love letters from Paul Nash to his wife, touching family photographs of Jacob Epstein, unpublished images revealing Eduardo Paolozzi’s playful nature, 45 volumes of Barbara Hepworth’s sculpture records and correspondence from William Nicholson to his son Ben are among the first batch of items to be made available on Tate’s website for a world-wide audience as part of the Archives and Access project.

The project draws on the world’s largest archive of British Art – Tate Archive – and brings it together online with Tate’s art collection, making this one of the richest and most comprehensive digital art and archival resources in Europe. It is generously supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund with a grant of £2 million.

These items from Tate Archive can now be viewed online and include sketchbooks, drawings, family photographs, personal letters and intimate diaries, giving unprecedented access to original and rarely seen material. The publicly available items reveal fascinating insights into the lives and work of some of the most important figures in British art.

Highlights include:

• Around 3,000 photographs by postwar artist Nigel Henderson. The collection includes a large body of unpublished black-and-white negatives of Eduardo Paolozzi in playful poses, behind the scenes glimpses of the jazz world in the 1950s featuring Ronnie Scott, Derek Humble and Jack Parnell, and images from his celebrated series of the east end of London.

• Barbara Hepworth’s sculpture records compiled by the artist throughout her life. Featuring original photographs, handwritten notes and details of exhibitions, the 45 volumes give a comprehensive record of her sculptures from 1925-1975.

• Remarkable unpublished photographs of Epstein working on his iconic sculpture Adam (1938-9) and touching family photographs of him with his young children.

• Tender love letters from Paul Nash to his wife Margaret detailing their early life together as well as his service as a soldier and war artist during the World War I. In addition to this correspondence, Nash’s black-and-white photographic output (numbering over 1,000 images) has been digitized showing his captivation with the beauty of the British landscape.

• Fond letters to Ben Nicholson from his father, artist William Nicholson giving an insight into their close relationship. The collection includes a letter teasing “I am really concerned that you can’t even draw a toothpick …” as well as an illustrated “Happy New Year” letter sent to Ben Nicholson and his then wife Barbara Hepworth.

• Over 100 letters by Walter Sickert, addressed to his friend and artist, society hostess Ethel Sands. The affectionate, sometimes illustrated, correspondence includes advice on painting techniques, writing of his desire to create “…Courbets without the knife if you like, steadier Renoirs.” Other topics include his time in Dieppe and London, “O the whiff of leather & stout from the [swing doors] of the pubs!, sitting for a Degas portrait, the Café Royal gang,” and telegrams about his marriage.

• Forty of Graham Sutherland’s sketchbooks filled with colorful gouache studies and drawings relating to major works, including his tapestry for Coventry Cathedral. The collection also features one of Sutherland’s earliest surviving sketchbooks following his first visit to Pembrokeshire.

• Copies of “This is my Birthday 1902,” compiled by author and journalist Anita Bartle in the tradition of a late Victorian keepsake. Two volumes list famous figures birthdays and quotes about their life, accompanied by a host of autographs, signatures, musical notations and sketches by artists and writers including H.G Wells, William Orpen, Hans Richter, Thomas Hardy, W.B. Yeats and George Bernard Shaw amongst many others.

• A large body of rarely-seen original drawings and sketches, including Josef Herman’s depictions of the Welsh mining town of Ystradgynlais from the 1940s and ’50s and David Jones’s childhood sketchbook.

Tate Archive is the largest archive of British art in the world. For the first time, visitors can view highlights from this rich resource online alongside the Tate Collection, seeing the inspiration and stories behind some of the greatest works of the past century.

This is the first stage of the project with the publication of 6,000 items online, including 15 collections relating to Kenneth Armitage, Anita Bartle, Jacob Epstein, Stephen Gilbert, Thomas Cooper Gotch, Nigel Henderson, Barbara Hepworth, Josef Herman, David Jones, Paul Nash, Ben Nicholson, Ethel Sands, Graham Sutherland, Henry Scott Tuke and Keith Vaughan. The digitization of archives relating to a further 37 artists will be completed in summer 2015, including Eileen Agar, Prunella Clough and Kurt Schwitters.

As part of opening up access to the Archive, Tate has developed new ways of engaging with these historic materials. This includes an online “Albums” feature which allows visitors to group together archive items and artworks that they can add to, annotate and share, a series of films exploring all aspects of the project, and a learning program across the UK working in partnership with key art organizations. Tate will be the first fine arts organization to collaborate with the Zooniverse team led by the University of Oxford to crowdsource full text transcriptions of handwritten documents.

For further information about the project, related films and blogs please visit . To view images of items mentioned in this release, go to


Ben Nicholson holding his cat Tommy, 1968. Image by Felicitas Vogler, courtesy of Tate.
Ben Nicholson holding his cat Tommy, 1968. Image by Felicitas Vogler, courtesy of Tate.