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Tuesday, 23 April, 2002, 17:48 GMT 18:48 UK
Tate opens 2m research centre
Tate Britain
The centre houses over 50,000 books and artefacts
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Keily Oakes
BBC News Online

Academics, art historians and students of the arts will be salivating at the prospect of the Tate Britain gallery opening up its archives.

A 2.2m donation by the Kreitman Foundation has allowed the gallery to bring together its vast archive, which has until now been spread across various buildings in London.

But the new Hyman Kreitman Research Centre is not for the casual browser.

This project is strictly for those with a deep knowledge of their subject but have exhausted all avenues in getting vital information.

The gallery is keen to stress the research centre should be used as a last resort - not somewhere to visit to look at books that could be found in most art libraries.


The people most likely to gain benefit from the new centre are post-graduates writing their thesis, art historians and researchers seeking greater knowledge.

It boasts of being the most important UK library for those working in the post World War II period.

Housed on the first floor of Tate Britain, the research centre has been designed to provide both comfort for users and space to house the evergrowing collection.

Although the archive space is in the middle of the large gallery, designers were keen to give the feeling of light and space.


Existing window arches have been backlit to create the feeling there are real windows.

There is also a major safety precaution of flood protection, with "submarine-style" doors to prevent damage should the Thames rise up - avoiding a repeat of the flood disaster that struck the gallery in 1928.

British artist Stanley Spencer
Self-portrait: British artist Stanley Spencer
The archive includes 50,000 books and about 130,000 museum and gallery exhibition catalogues.

The centre also houses unique or rare items such as diaries, letters, workbooks and personal property of many British and international artists.

Sketch books include those from James Boswell, Stanley Spencer, John Wells and Ghisha Koenig.

One of the centre's treasures is the original silk hair ribbon from Edgar Degas' Little Dancer Aged 14, which was cast in 1922.

The precious artefact is brittle and damaged but is a fascinating piece to witness first hand.

Other highlights include Turner's palette, Paul Nash's paintbox with jamjar and dirty rag paints and Walter Sickert's painting overalls.

Expert advice

The beauty and rareness of some of the books and letters - especially the artists' journals - make them almost untouchable.

Careful and dedicated fingers alone should have the privilege of using these first-hand testaments to the minds of the artists as they worked.

But as well as the historical nature of the archive there are also up-to-the-minute systems for searching for material as well as trained staff on hand to offer their expert advice.

Without their help there would be no hope at all of pinpointing where a vital piece of information could be, such is the enormity of the collection.

See also:

24 Jan 01 | Business
Business sponsors boost UK arts
23 Mar 00 | UK
Artists unveil Tate Britain
20 Mar 01 | UK Politics
Ten-year arts plan unveiled
11 Feb 01 | UK
New targets for libraries
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