The Yale Center for British Art has joined Art UK, meaning the public can see the Center's artworks, starting with the oil paintings, for the purposes of enjoyment and research. The Center's holdings make up the largest and most comprehensive collection of British art outside the UK and, as such, complement the UK's national art collection.
While Yale Center for British Art is based in Connecticut, it has very strong links with the UK: its sister institution, the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, has been based in central London since the 1970s. Art UK has no immediate plans to add any other international art collections.
No one individual did more to promote the study and significance of British art across the world than the American philanthropist Paul Mellon (1907–1999). His collection of British art at the Yale Center, the largest and most comprehensive of its kind outside the United Kingdom, is the first from outside the borders of Britain to be included on Art UK.
The Yale Center for British Art, now in its 42nd year, serves as both a museum and research center as part of Yale University, dedicated to promoting the study, appreciation, and enjoyment of British art. The gift of Paul Mellon, the collections present the development of art and culture in Britain from the Elizabethan period to the present day. Together with a Reference and Photographic Library, the Center's collections of paintings, sculpture, drawings, prints, rare books, manuscripts, and photographs provide an exceptional resource for understanding the rich story of British art.
Paul Mellon's dual status as one of the twentieth century's greatest collectors of art, and one of its greatest collectors of books has resulted in, perhaps uniquely, an institution where the history of British art and culture can be studied together under one roof. Now housed within an iconic building designed by the American architect Louis I. Kahn, the collections have continued to grow and now include more than 2,000 paintings, 250 sculptures, 20,000 drawings and watercolours, 40,000 prints, and 35,000 rare books and manuscripts.
Paul Mellon's passion for British art was wide-ranging, extending from the medieval to the work of twentieth-century artists such as Henry Moore, Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth. It was rooted especially in the long eighteenth century and the Center now boasts a collection from this period unrivalled in its comprehensiveness, from masterpieces by Sir Joshua Reynolds, Thomas Gainsborough and George Stubbs, to the work of little-known regional artists working in Bath, Chichester or Lewes.
On a visit to the Center today, one can encounter medieval sculpture, Jacobean portraiture, modern and contemporary painting, photography and video art alongside the grand-manner portraits, conversation pieces, and sporting art traditionally associated with British art in North America.
This partnership also provides an immediate and valuable opportunity to reunite digitally works at Yale with related paintings in public ownership in the United Kingdom. Now embedded in within an even larger collection of paintings and sculpture through the Art UK portal, it is hoped that this collaboration will help new audiences discover and enjoy the Center's collections, as well as leading to new insights and revelations into the collection. The Center eagerly anticipates discussion of its collection within Art UK's 'Art Detective' forum and welcomes the expertise of others to shed light on questions of attribution, sitter-identity and the location of the innumerable landscapes and buildings depicted in the paintings collection.
Matthew Hargraves, Chief Curator of Art Collections and Edward Town, Head of Collections Information and Access and Assistant Curator of Early Modern Art