Visual arts

This section gives some idea of the main areas of current purchasing, and a selective list of notable accessions is included. Email Chris Taylor for further information.

Modern printed collections

Purchasing is concentrated on works on Painting, Photography, Architecture and Sculpture, with the strongest emphasis on painting, mainly of Western Europe, especially France, Italy and the Germanic countries, and North America, with representative works from Eastern Europe and Australasia.

Most periods are covered, though contemporary art is given less emphasis, since there are good collections of material in other Edinburgh libraries. Special attention is paid to acquiring scholarly exhibition catalogues and monographs, catalogues raisonnés of artists, the history of movements or schools of art and the history of art in individual countries.

Photography has a continuing importance for the Library, reflecting the central position of Scotland in its development. The Library purchases current exhibition catalogues, monographs and other works in support of the growing international interest in photographic studies. In 1996 the Scottish Visual Arts Group produced its 'Report on Photographic Literature in Scotland', recommending expansion of the Library's role in this area, and this will be considered when funds allow.

In recent years a growing collection of artists' books has been developed, many published in Scotland but not eligible for claim by legal deposit. Though the Library has in earlier years acquired works by artists such as Kurt Schwitters and Marcel Duchamp, the policy now is normally for artists' books bought by the Library to have a Scottish association, whether because the work is produced in Scotland, deals with Scottish subject matter or is made by an artist who is a Scot or works in Scotland, and to include a reasonable amount of text as well as visual material. In addition to acquiring works of established book artists like Ian Hamilton Finlay, the Library has in recent years also purchased works by young book artists active in Scotland.

Non-current material and special collections

From its earliest days, the Library has purchased books on art and architecture as part of the general collections in pursuit of scholarly coverage of the humanities. From time to time special collections were acquired with emphasis on a particular aspect of art. Particular mention may be made of the McCurdy Collection of works on Leonardo da Vinci; the James Brown Collection of illustrated 19th- and 20th-century French books; the George Washington Wilson Slides Collection of Scottish scenery and buildings; and the Allhusen Collection, mainly of early-20th century French books, including many on fine art.

Non-print collections

The Library holds a number of large series of microform publications of value for research, including:

  • 'Art Exhibition Catalogues on Microfiche', a programme of republishing important out-of-print catalogues
  • 'Christie's Pictorial Archive', representing 5,000 artists whose work was sold at Christie's auctions
  • The 'Conway Library', held at the Courtauld Institute.

The immense 'Marburger Index', containing more than 500,000 photographs documenting art in Germany. New large series of this kind are now not normally purchased, though units or sub-series continue to be acquired, especially if Scottish association is apparent.

The Library subscribes to Art Index and holds several image-based CD-ROMs, notably:

  • 'Glasgow on Disc: a CD-ROM Guide to the Architecture of Glasgow'
  • 'Investigating the Lewis Chess Pieces', a multimedia programme produced by the National Museums of Scotland and Museum Nan Eilean, Stornoway
  • The 'National Gallery Complete Illustrated Catalogue'.

Manuscript collections

Manuscript Collections holds extensive collections of Scottish topographical drawings of the 18th and 19th centuries, as well as many sketchbooks and illustrated diaries relating to the travels of Scots all over the world.

There are also collections of architectural drawings and related correspondence. The division acquires the papers of Scottish artists, and letters or groups of letters of Scottish artists and architects of all periods are regularly added to the collections. Holdings also include the papers of art collectors, patrons and dealers.

Medieval illuminated manuscripts are important works of art in their own right and there are distinguished examples in the Library of the work of many periods and schools, many of these being works of the highest quality and renown.



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