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An Introduction to the Camden Art Collection

Wilhemina Barns-Graham, Ice Cavern, oil on board, © courtesy of the Barns-Graham Charitable Trust

The London Borough of Camden Art Collection consists of just under 1,000 items that include works on paper, paintings and sculptures. The main focus of the collection is works dating from the late 1950s to the late 1980s, with many pieces by artists who lived in the Borough. Many of these works were inherited from the predecessor authorities who were gifted these pieces when the Council was established in 1965. Other works were directly purchased by the Council from 1965 to 1985, with limited funding from a ‘picture loan’ scheme that the Council operated. With this modest budget, works were bought inexpensively from degree shows at the Slade School of Art and Central Saint Martins as well as Hampstead Artists’ exhibitions. A small number of these works were acquired through the Council’s relationship with Camden Arts Centre and later Swiss Cottage Gallery. In addition, acquisitions were made from artists who were commissioned for other art projects in the Borough and some artists have donated pieces to the collection.

As many of the artists whose work is in the collection have died or are no longer active, this has resulted in an increase in the research value of the collection. Interestingly, as many works were acquired directly from the artists, they have not subsequently entered into catalogues.

Robert Adams, Untitled, 1963

Highlights of the collection include unique works by: Sandra Blow, Jean Cooke, John Bratby, Maggie Hambling, Derek Jarman, Prunella Clough, Terry Frost, Adrian Heath, Wilhemina Barns-Graham and limited edition works on paper by David Hockney and Patrick Caulfield. John Bratby was a painter who founded the Kitchen-Sink Realism style of art that was influential in the late 1950s. Bratby became famous for his adaptation of the Impressionist Realism of Walter Sickert and the Camden Town Group towards a more aggressively expressionist style influenced by van Gogh and the Abstract Expressionists. Bratby’s expressionistic style became known as Kitchen-Sink Realism after a painting of his which actually depicted a kitchen sink. The critic David Sylvester wrote an article in 1954 about trends in recent British art, calling his article ‘The Kitchen Sink’ in reference to Bratby’s picture. Bratby’s first marriage was to the painter Jean Cooke whose work is also included in the Collection.

Derek Jarman, Hawkman Ballet Rambert, collage, 1968, © the artist’s estate

Derek Jarman, most celebrated today as a filmmaker, studied painting at the Slade School of Art from 1963 to 1967. After graduating, he worked as a theatre designer for ballet productions at Sadlers Wells and it is from this very early period that his work in the collection comes. Jarman was a prominent figure in Camden’s LGBT community and an early activist for AIDS awareness from which he died in 1995. He was nominated for the Turner Prize in 1986. Adrian Heath’s studies at the Slade School of Art were interrupted by the Second World War. Heath was a long-term resident of Hampstead and was associated with the Euston Road School. He exhibited with the Constructivist artists Victor Pasmore and Kenneth and Mary Martin. Heath had a retrospective at Camden Arts Centre in 1975.

The London Borough of Camden has a pre-eminent position within the Visual Arts of the UK, thanks to the number of high quality venues in the Borough and the artists who have been associated with the area. The collection provides a unique record of this narrative and a document of cultural life in Camden over four decades.

Adrian Heath, Untitled, oil on canvas, 1969, © courtesy of Jonathan Clark Fine Art

London Borough of Camden Picture and Sculpture Loan Scheme

The London Borough of Camden Picture and Sculpture Loan Scheme was a pioneering postwar development, only seen in a minority of libraries around the country, was the loan of original works of art through the library service. From 19th May 1954 until the early 1990s, the London Borough of Camden operated a remarkable Picture and Sculpture Loan Scheme. A selection of works – numbering just under 1,000 – comprising of paintings, prints, drawings and sculptures from the Council’s art collection were available for loan by registered Camden library members. Items in the scheme were not for sale but could be loaned on library ticket for approximately three months.

Three times a year, the library service mounted exhibition displays of works available for loan in the Scheme at four Library venues in the Borough: Swiss Cottage Library, Avenue Road, Holborn Library, Theobald’s Road, St Pancras Library, Euston Road and Kentish Town Library, Kentish Town Road. Artists resident in the Borough were encouraged to submit artwork and many of these submissions were later added to the Council’s art collection. Displays of works were on view to the public for two weeks before the beginning of a loan period and work could be reserved after a specified date during the exhibition.

Camden Library members were allowed to borrow one artwork at a time, with a maximum of two artworks per household. No hiring or deposit fee was required but borrowers undertook to keep the work under suitable conditions at their home address and to make good any damage or loss incurred while the artwork was in their possession. On the reverse of the majority of artworks is a library frontis plate, these were date stamped with the return date of the loan in the same way a library book would be issued.

left: photo of a library member negotiating a Picture Loan with a librarian, 1961, taken at Holborn Library; right: historic Advertising Poster for the Scheme dating from the 1970s. Both © London Borough of Camden.

Viewing the London Borough of Camden Collection online

Currently the best way to look through items in the London Borough of Camden’s Art Collection is via the Spydus database on the Camden Library Catalogue website HERE.

In order to browse any of the categories such as ‘Artist’ or ‘Title’ simply have ‘Browse’ selected and type the star symbol * into the search bar and press enter. To make browsing easier set ‘Records per page’ to 100. This will bring up all the results in the selected category. A portion of the London Borough of Camden’s Art Collection is also also viewable through the Public Catalogue Foundation’s Your Paintings website, as below. However, only oil and acrylic paintings from the Council’s holdings are documented here:

Any questions relating to the Collection should be addressed to: