The Courtauld Institute of Art is one the world’s leading centres for the study of the history and conservation of art and architecture, art research and restoration activities and its Gallery houses one of Britain’s best-loved collections. It is an independent college of the University of London.
The Courtauld is home to two major photographic collections: the Witt and Conway Libraries:
The Witt Library (c. 2.15 million images) is a collection of reproductions after paintings, drawings and prints, of western art, covering the period 1200 to the present day. Original photographs and cuttings from published material are filed on shelves, organised alphabetically by artist within ‘national schools’. All major artists are represented in depth and one of the strengths of the library is its coverage of lesser-known artists, unparalleled elsewhere.
The Conway Library (c. 940,000 images) is the private collection of Lord Conway of Allington, which came to The Courtauld Institute in 1932. Since then the library has been developed continuously as a teaching and research collection. It now contains photographs and cuttings of architecture, architectural drawings and publications, sculpture (approximately 10,000 sculptors are represented), ivories, seals, metalwork, manuscript illumination, stained glass, wall paintings, panel paintings and textiles. Images are mounted on card and housed in boxes on open shelves.
The Witt and Conway Libraries contain smaller collections: some subsumed within the bodies of the libraries themselves, others separate:
- The Laib Collection of over 20,000 glass plate negatives illustrate works by many of the major artists working in Britain between 1900 and 1945: from society portraitists such as De Laszlo, Sargent and Birley, to young contemporaries such as Piper, Hepworth and Nicholson. The collection is almost wholly unpublished, and includes images of artists at work in their studios, and works prior to completion.
- Anthony Kersting's Archive of over 160,000 images which was donated to the Courtauld upon his death in 2008. His photographs were licensed to illustrate books for the National Trust, many of Nikolaus Pevsner's Guides, Arthur Mee's King's England series of guidebooks, and Encyclopaedia Britannica. His archive also covers architecture of almost every European country, Asia, New Zealand, the Middle and Far East. Kersting's election in 1947 to a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society was principally in recognition of his photographs of Islamic architecture with particular reference to Iran, Iraq (including Kurdistan and the Yazidi people), Syria and Israel.
- The Photographic Survey (c, 40,000 images) was initiated in the early 1950s in conjunction with the Frick Art Reference Library in New York. The mission of the project was to record and encourage scholarly engagement with works of art in private collections in England, Wales and Ireland. Over five hundred public and private collections have been photographed.