Government Art Collection
- Original design
- Unknown, 1899
The 2018 programme is now past. We will be launching the 2019 programme mid-August.
Works of art from the Government Art Collection (GAC) are displayed in UK Government buildings in nearly every capital city, making it the most dispersed collection of British art in the world.
The role of the Collection is to promote British art while contributing to cultural diplomacy. Two-thirds of the Collection are displayed in over 370 locations worldwide.
Established in 1898, the Collection has expanded over the years and now contains over 14,000 works of art from the 16th century to the present day in a broad range of media.
We select works of art for display in Government buildings including 10 Downing Street and Ministerial Offices in the UK, and the reception areas of British Embassies and Residencies in nearly every capital city across the globe. Where possible, we select works of art that have a connection with a particular location. For example, the British Ambassador's Residence in Cairo features 'Reflection', a painting by Bridget Riley. Riley visited Egypt and the colours in this painting were inspired by the wall paintings she saw in the tombs of Upper Egypt. When thinking about where work should be displayed, we also consider other criteria, such as the architecture of the building, the environmental conditions and the functions of individual rooms and spaces.
Recent new displays of art have included those in Vienna, New Delhi and Wellington; and, in the UK, 10 Downing Street, the Cabinet Office, the Scottish Office and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
New works of art are purchased with the approval of an Advisory Committee. We acquire works by artists who have a strong British connection: for example, those who were born in Britain, or who have lived or are living in the country. Works must be robust enough to withstand being displayed in a non-gallery environment – a Minister's office or a working building such as an Embassy or Residence.
The GAC occasionally commissions new work. In 2017, 'Proposals for the Government Art Collection', a multi-part work by Peter Liversidge, was commissioned as part of 'An Eyeful of Wry', a special exhibition exploring humour in art, as part of Hull 2017 UK City of Culture.
The Collection is cared for by a small team based in central London. A registrar monitors all works of art entering the Collection and keeps track of the flow of works in and out of our premises. We also fully document all aspects of the works, including copyright and image reproduction, on a comprehensive database.
Art technicians carry out preventative conservation and some restoration to the works of art (and their frames) in the Collection at our premises. This work is carefully programmed to match both the requirements for specific buildings and the safety and care of the works themselves. All other conservation work is contracted out to freelance conservators.
Interpretation about works of art is provided for ministerial and diplomatic staff and visitors to Government buildings. This is supported by an on-going research programme led by GAC curators into historical, modern and contemporary works.
For the past 50 years we have regularly lent work from the Collection to public exhibitions. We respond positively to requests for loans wherever the practical, security and environmental conditions are acceptable.
We give tours of our central London building which are very popular. We currently run regular evening tours every month for organised groups, and lunchtime tours for general visitors. We participate annually in Open House London and Museums at Night weekends.
We have published a number of catalogues on aspects of the Collection, including a catalogue of all the oil paintings in the Collection in collaboration with the Public Catalogue Foundation. In 2011, 'Art Power and Diplomacy', the first book about the history and role of the Collection, was published.
Queen’s Yard partially occupies the site of an old road, New Inn Yard. The 1888 Art Workers’ Guild Members list indicates that in that year, the sculptor and carver, William Aumonier (1841–1914) had a workshop at No 1 New Inn Yard. In 1904, Marshall’s Drug Stores opened a branch at No 13.
As early as 1817 the hosier and linen draper, James Shoolbred & Co. established a shop at 155 Tottenham Court Road. By 1838, after demolishing three houses on 154–156 Tottenham Court Road, it opened a large shop with a classical frontage, from which it traded in silks and carpets.
During the 19th century, Shoolbred expanded rapidly. Purchasing an entire block from Grafton Way to University Street in 1870, it opened a furniture department specialising in the Aesthetic Movement; and later groceries. By 1899, it had become a comprehensive department store, with interiors laid out as room designs, and extensive alterations made to their warehousing depositories. Around this period, New Inn Yard was cleared and the area was developed to form Queen’s Yard, where the current building was constructed as a Shoolbred warehouse.
At the turn of the new century, Shoolbred’s fortunes began to decline, and by 1930, the company went into liquidation. The Tottenham Court Road store closed in 1931, and the ‘stock and goodwill’ of the company was bought by Harrods. Despite the closure, from 1931 to 1939, the building functioned as a warehouse under the company name ‘Shoolbred’s Depositories Ltd’. In more recent years, it was temporarily used as a computer centre by Barclays Bank. In 1999, the Government Art Collection moved into its purpose-built space on the third and fourth floors of Queen’s Yard.