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What is the Government Art Collection?

The UK Government Art Collection is a unique cultural resource. It has a history of collecting and displaying art for over 120 years, right at the heart of British government. It is the most dispersed collection of British art in the world today, with works 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 role in British cultural diplomacy. It delivers an expression of Britain’s soft power, its culture and its values, in UK government buildings at home and abroad. Collection staff curate displays, oversee the transport, and handle the conservation of 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. Its core work is funded by central government, with particular projects jointly funded through partnerships and philanthropic support.

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…

Kate Smith, British Ambassador to Greece on having art in the Residence in Athens.

interior showing a painting on a wall

Interior of the Athens Ambassador’s residence with 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, the launch of a new Stella McCartney collection, or celebrating the latest Thomas the Tank Engine book! We do big events with several hundreds, 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, former British Ambassador to Japan from 2012-2016 on the role of art in the Residence in Tokyo.

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. You can explore this national collection online or through partnership projects that bring our art works to local audiences. In 2020 the Collection moves in to a new home with a new programme of exhibitions and events. To stay in touch and find out more about our events and projects, 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 we do. The Collection continues to grow, capturing the talent and interests of each generation. We collect works by artists who are British or have a connection to Britain, and place this art in significant locations; celebrating and showcasing the UK’s commitment to culture in the context of diplomacy.

While the Collection works alongside government, it retains a curatorial independence in its acquisitions and displays of art. Works are acquired by the Collection curators, with input from an Advisory Committee consisting of directors of 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

Artwork loans to public exhibitions are currently on hold due to Covid-19 restrictions.

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 and to finding new ways to reach wider audiences.