The idea of an Artists’ Papers Register was proposed by the Association of Art Historians in the mid-1980s. A six-month pilot study, based at Glasgow University Library and funded by the Getty Grant Program, was established in 1987 to investigate artists’ papers in the West of Scotland. Though this study was considered successful in establishing guidelines for a national Register, funding for such a project was not forthcoming until 1996 when Leeds University Library and the Henry Moore Foundation combined to facilitate a post of Project Officer to be based in Leeds. A year later, a generous grant from the Getty Grant Program and support from the University of Birmingham Library allowed for the creation of a second post based in Birmingham.


The Leeds Project Officer, based at the Henry Moore Institute, surveyed repositories in Scotland and the North of England between 1996 and 1998, whilst the Birmingham Project Officer, based at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, carried out the survey for Wales and the South of England, excluding Greater London, between 1997 and 1999. The Greater London area was surveyed separately by two London Project Officers, between 2002 and 2004.

A record of all art-related material listed at the Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts’ National Register of Archives was initially transferred to the Artists’ Papers Register Access database. Approximately 1600 national, regional and local repositories were approached, including archives, record offices, libraries, museums, galleries, universities, historic houses and independent societies and institutions. All repositories were sent a questionnaire requesting details of their relevant holdings. Repositories that were able to provide full details of their art-related material, or which already had full details listed at the Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts, could immediately be added to the Artists’ Papers Register. Further information was subsequently sought from published sources. A number of the repositories ultimately required a visit from a Project Officer to have their papers listed from in-house catalogues and from the archive material itself.


Whilst the Artists’ Papers Register strives to provide a comprehensive record of art-related primary material, the scale of the survey inevitably means that complete coverage is impossible. Much of the research has relied on leads suggested by repository staff and on educated guesswork. Relevant material will undoubtedly have been missed at larger repositories and some smaller repositories that have artists’ papers may have been overlooked.

The Artists’ Papers Register represents a more current, detailed and extensive guide to the papers of artists and designers in the United Kingdom than any existing resource but, to ensure its continued growth and a truly comprehensive service, it is hoped that the staff of archives, libraries, record offices and art galleries will continue to draw our attention to collections that are not listed and inform us of new acquisitions.

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