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It’s been over nine months since Art UK started adding prints, drawings and watercolours to sit alongside the oils and acrylics. We’ve learned a lot about works on paper, why they are a different (though related) species to oil paintings, and discovered some amazing new artists. Mostly, our work has confirmed the importance of recording works on paper.

The problem

  • Artworks on paper are highly susceptible to deterioration: the light, heat and humidity of their environment must be carefully controlled
  • Their fragility means watercolours, prints and drawings are often stowed away rather than on display
  • Often works on paper far outnumber paintings and sculptures in museums and galleries, but this isn’t always apparent to museum visitors
  • Many artists who worked primarily on paper do not have a permanent display platform for their work
  • Artists who work in various media may have their works on paper overlooked in favour of oil, acrylic or 3D work

Art UK’s solution is to showcase images of works on paper on our digital platform, making thousands more artworks accessible to Art UK visitors from across the world. We are able to curate content on a great variety of themes relating to drawings, watercolours and prints, making their stories more accessible. We also now have the opportunity to think critically about works on paper: James Faure Walker considered the limitations, potential and future of a medium in his article Can watercolour get smart?

Highlights

Opening up Art UK’s remit has allowed us to include the incredible coloured linocuts of Edward Bawden. His depictions of England glow with joyful aestheticism and a keen eye for composition. The Palmhouse, Kew Gardens makes us happy every time we see it.

Self Portrait

Self Portrait 1932

Wyndham Lewis (1882–1957)

The Ingram Collection of Modern British and Contemporary Art added a lithograph on paper Self Portraitof the mercurial artist Wyndham Lewis. Art UK were lucky enough to have an article provided by the curator Richard Slocombe which looks in depth at Lewis’ character, and his rise and fall from favour. Wyndham Lewis was originally sympathetic towards Hitler (before he realised how awful he was), after which his reputation never recovered.

An Interior in Sizergh Castle, Cumbria

An Interior in Sizergh Castle, Cumbria 1850

Joseph Nash the elder (1808–1878)

Cumbria’s Sizergh Castle is now a National Trust property. The oak panelling was removed, and sold to the Victoria and Albert Museum in the 1890s, but a successful campaign resulted in the panels being returned to their original setting in 1997. This watercolour is thought to be the only coloured image of this room in its original condition, and is an important reminder of the value of works on paper for historical research.

Warrior Birds

Warrior Birds 1957

Elisabeth Frink (1930–1993)

Art UK is lucky enough to have works by the artist Elisabeth Frink added to the site, such as this drawing Warrior Birds. Perhaps influenced by the artist’s own experience of war, Warrior Birds encapsulates panic, tension and aggression. Frink grew up near an air base and witnessed bombers fighting in the skies above her.  

In an interview with Sarah Kent which took place shortly before Frink’s death, Frink discussed her depiction of birds:

Elisabeth: I mean, my birds of prey, actually became something else. I mean, they became like bits of shrapnel and flying things, you know, with the very sharp beaks.

Sarah: So they were part bird and part machine?  

Elisabeth: Yes.

[…]

Elisabeth: Well, they changed a lot. I mean, as they went through, they became harbingers, and, you know, the more blunt ... kind of ... rather prehistoric looking creatures.

We were happy to show the sketches behind the creation of Bryan Organ’s oil portrait Attenborough in Paradise as part of a story by Lars Tharp – the preparatory works telling a story as interesting as the final picture.

Sonia Boyce’s work raises questions about the effect of the diaspora of the African peoples, and points to the power of film to perpetuate stereotypes. Photobooth portraits of the artist refer partly to ‘voodoo trance’ parodied in Hollywood films. This complex piece was made using photographs, photocopies on paper, acrylic paint, ballpoint pen, crayon and felt-tip pen.

What’s next?

A great number of Partner collections already on Art UK are in possession of works on paper and are expected to add these to Art UK in the near future. Watch this space for additions from Rye Art Gallery, The L. S. Lowry Collection and many more.

Our fortnightly newsletter updates readers on any new additions to Art UK. You can also follow @artukdotorg on Twitter (and Instagram) to be kept in the loop.

Emma Frith, Digital Content and Research Assistant and Jade King, Head of Editorial, Art UK