What is the Government Art Collection?

The UK Government Art Collection is a unique cultural resource with a history of collecting and displaying art right at the heart of British government, that spans over 120 years. It is the most dispersed collection of British art in the world today, displayed in more than 365 buildings, in 155 capital cities worldwide.

An atrium showing two works of art

‘Dancing Columns’ a sculpture by Tony Cragg and behind ‘Wall Drawing (for the British Embassy)’ by David Tremlett can be seen in the atrium at the British Embassy, Berlin © image: Crown Copyright

The purpose of the Collection

The Collection promotes British art and plays a key role in British cultural diplomacy, delivering an expression of Britain’s soft power, its culture and its values, across major cities around the world. We curate displays, oversee transport and conservation caring for over 14,000 works in UK government buildings at home and abroad.

The Collection has museum status and sits within the UK Government Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. Core activities are funded by central government with some projects jointly funded through partnerships and philanthropic support.

Kate Smith, H.M. Ambassador to Athens on the impact of having art in the Residence:

The artworks on display are one of its great attractions and points of interest. They illustrate and illuminate key moments in our shared history, connections between our peoples, and showcase some outstanding artists from both countries…

interior showing a painting on a wall

Interior of Athens Ambassador’s residence showing the portrait of George Gordon Noel Byron, 6th Baron Byron (1788-1824) poet by Thomas Phillips © Crown Copyright

The Residence is busy. We have over 10,000 people passing through each year – maybe only Paris can match that number. What we do is wildly various; conferences on nuclear decommissioning, or the launch of a new Stella McCartney collection, or celebrating the latest Thomas the Tank Engine book! We do big events with several hundreds, or intimate dinners for the First Sea Lord, or working breakfasts with Japanese CEOs. For each of them, we need them to believe they have entered a new world: Britain@Tokyo.

– Tim Hitchens in 2015, on the role of the Ambassador’s Residence in Tokyo. Hitchens was British ambassador to Japan from 2012-2016.

a photo collage

Luncheon at the British Embassy, Tokyo, 16 February 1983 by David Hockney, photo-collage © David Hockney / image: Hiroshi Sumitomo (Japan).

Where can I see the Collection?

The Government Art Collection is committed to ensuring wider public access to its works of art through loans, partnerships and public programmes. Everyone is invited to explore this national collection, either online or through partnership projects that bring works closer to local audiences. In 2020 the Collection moves in to a new home and we look forward to launching a new programme of exhibitions and events. If you want to be the first to hear our news you can sign up for our Newsletter in the footer or follow us on social media.

large kinetic work of art in a shopping mall

4′ 33″ (Prepared Pianola for Roger Bannister) by Mel Brimfield on display as part of Ways of Seeing © Thierry Bal

Do you still collect?

Yes – the Collection continues to grow and tell the ongoing story of UK creativity, capturing the talent and interests of each generation. We collect works by artists who are British or have a connection to Britain, placing them in significant locations and showcasing the UK’s commitment to celebrate our culture in the context of diplomacy.

While the Collection works alongside government, it retains a curatorial independence in how it acquires and displays work. Works are acquired by the Collection curators working with an Advisory Committee consisting of directors of key national art institutions in the UK and independent arts professionals.

Art technicians installing a print containing the text COURAGE INSPIRATION SWEAT LOVE THE PARALYMPICS 2012

On Show

Learn about the Collection's latest loans of art to museums and exhibitions

Advisory Committee

The role of the Advisory Committee is to approve the acquisition and commission of works of art and to advise on the policy and stewardship of the Collection. See who the current members are.

an artist answers questions at a primary school

Partnership Projects

The Government Art Collection is committed to working with different partners to create opportunities to support and promote the Collection, finding new ways to reach wider audiences.