For over 70 years the British Council has been collecting works of art in order to promote the achievements of British artists internationally. The Collection now contains over 9000 works covering all aspects of British art and design in the 20th and 21st Centuries. The Collection continues to grow through an active acquisition policy focusing on collecting and supporting artists early on in their careers. Philanthropy has been, and remains, vital to the Collection’s development and this exhibition demonstrates the many forms that ‘giving’ has taken throughout the history of the collection. 

Founded in 1935, the British Council Collection was gifted an initial donation of £1000 a year for 3 years from Lord Wakefield. This was designated to be spent on black and white works on paper that would be suitable for international travel and culminated in the acquisition of over 400 artworks known as the Wakefield Collection. Another important early gift was Walter Sickert’s oil painting St Mark’s, Venice, presented to the collection by Bridget D’Oyly Carte. These gifts show the importance of individual support for the British Council’s activities and our continuing collaboration with arts in the UK as well as abroad.

Throughout its history the British Council has maintained a commitment to supporting artists early on in their careers. The two lithographs displayed here were personally gifted to the collection by Henry Moore, demonstrating his appreciation for his long-term relationship with the Council. More recently, in September 1994, Sir Anthony Caro gifted the sculpture Summer Tableto the collection in recognition of the valued support he received from the Council during his career. Purchased in 2011, Alan Kane’s Home for Orphaned Dishes presents an alternative idea of giving within the Collection. Blurring the boundary between the artist and the viewer, Kane encourages his audience to co-create by donating their own unwanted ceramics to his installation, and consequently gifting items to the British Council Collection itself.

The exhibition is located at the British Council's London Offices

10 Spring Gardens, London SW1A 2BN

Open 9am - 6pm Monday - Friday

Installation Images

  • On show at the Whitechapel Gallery
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