History of the Collection
Art is one way of remembering Britain’s long-standing relationships with other nations.
Representations of historic figures, once reflecting the formal stature and status of monarchs, are used today as a playful means of depicting power and status, as illustrated in Stephen Farthing’s painting, Bling! Henry.
The Government Art Collection dates back to 1899 when a few portraits and landscapes were bought as an economical way of sprucing up tired-looking government rooms in Whitehall.
Images of British monarchs and famous figures brought a sense of stature to entrance halls and state rooms and raised an awareness of the powerful cultural diplomatic role that art could play.
By the 1930s, diplomats and officials had become accustomed to working alongside historical artworks from the Collection. It was clear that the art had an impact on how the embassy buildings were experienced by visitors.
During the Second World War, the funding and provision of art for government buildings and embassies was paused. A small number of works were lost, damaged or destroyed as a result of the hostilities, with one exception.
Find out how the mood of post-war Britain impacted on the Collection and how it changed the art displayed on the walls of Government offices.
Keen to champion Britain’s position in the world, Margaret Thatcher saw the potential of 10 Downing Street as a place to showcase art, and took an active interest in new displays.
Moving away from its imperial past and engaging with a new postwar world order, Britain began building and shaping a new identity at home and abroad.
Adapting and reflecting the world around it, the ambition of the Collection is to continue to challenge and acknowledge its historical roots. New acquisitions are considered by subject, theme or an artist’s personal experience, all of which resonate with different aspects of contemporary British society