Catalogue description Office of Works and successors: Government Art Collection: Registered Files

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Details of WORK 54
Reference: WORK 54
Title: Office of Works and successors: Government Art Collection: Registered Files

This series contains registered files, originally raised in the Office of Works and its successors prior to the transfer of responsibility for the Government Art Collection and related functions to the Office of Arts and Libraries in 1980, and used by the offices of the Government Art Collection.

The majority of the files are concerned with the commissioning and distribution of state portraits, particularly those of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II supplied to diplomatic and consular posts abroad, supply of pictures to diplomatic, consular and colonial posts abroad, and purchase, distribution and care of pictures for the collection.

Also contained in this series are papers of the Advisory Committee on the Purchase of Works of Art.

Most of the files were registered in the AA series; one file is from the AE series.

Date: 1899-1973
Held by: The National Archives, Kew
Former reference in its original department: AA file series
Legal status: Public Record(s)
Language: English

Department of the Environment, 1970-1997

Ministry of Public Building and Works, 1962-1970

Ministry of Works, 1943-1962

Ministry of Works and Buildings, 1940-1942

Ministry of Works and Planning, 1942-1943

Office of Works, 1851-1940

Physical description: 120 file(s)
Access conditions: Subject to 30 year closure unless otherwise stated
Administrative / biographical background:

In 1898 the Office of Works was asked by the Treasury to oversee the welfare of works of art which happened to be found in government buildings, a responsibility which to this day remains one of the chief function of the Government Art Collection (GAC). The office's informal powers to purchase pictures for hanging in government buildings were formalised in 1907, when the office was authorised by the Treasury to spend up to £300 a year on purchasing or commissioning copies of portraits of historical or official interest to be used to decorate public buildings or offices. This was supplemented in 1935 by an additional grant of £250 to extend this service to diplomatic buildings and residences abroad. During the Second World War both allowances lapsed, but in 1946, with the appointment of the first curator, the purchase scheme was revived.

Just before the Second World War, a committee was set up to advise the Minister of Works on the purchase and commissioning of works of art. In 1946 the Advisory Committee, which had become virtually moribund, was reconstituted and the purchase grant was increased. By 1952 the demand for works of art had grown, and Sir David Eccles, then Minister of Works, appealed for subscriptions to a fund set up for providing pictures for government buildings, which at the same time aimed at encouraging young British artists. Money was raised and spent over the next three years, largely to acquire contemporary works of art for the collection. It also acquired items through gift and purchase. Sir David also appealed to private collectors and the national galleries to lend works for display in embassies overseas.

By the 1990s the GAC owned about 15,000 works of art chiefly by British artists or of British interest. The collection includes paintings, sculpture, drawings, prints, photographs and tapestries; the balance between historical and twentieth century works is fairly even.

Responsibility for the collection passed from the Office of Works, through its successors, to the Office of Arts and Libraries in 1979. In 1992, following the formation of the Department of National Heritage, overall responsibility for the collection passed to the new body, although by then the Collection was managing its own administration.

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