Curious Facts

Over the last 120 years, the Government Art Collection has grown and developed into an eclectic and inspiring mix of paintings, prints, sculptures and audio visual installations. But what is the funniest work in the Collection? Or the longest?

What is the tallest artwork in the Collection?

This sculpture was one of four works that were commissioned from artists in 2008 for the Ministry of Justice in London. Standing tall at an impressive 13.5 metres high (that’s about 44 feet!), Conrad Shawcross’s work makes a real impact in the atrium.

an atrium with a large sculpture made of wood

Conrad Shawcross, Axiom, 2009, wood sculpture on display in the Ministry of Justice, London © Conrad Shawcross / image: Crown Copyright

What is the longest artwork in the Collection?

Another work specially commissioned for the newly refurbished Ministry of Justice building is this – Paper Leaves and Concrete Trees by Martin Boyce. Pieced together around the interior atrium of the building, brass letters form a 45-metre-long poetic narrative referring to the construction of the building and its modernist history.

A text-based artwork installed on the mezzanine of a public building

Martin Boyce, Paper Leaves and Concrete Trees, 2008 © image: Crown Copyright

What is the oldest artwork in the Collection?

Believed to have been painted some point between 1527 and 1550, this portrait of Henry VIII stands out as the oldest artwork in the Collection. Some scholars believe this is one of the earliest surviving portraits of the Tudor king.

painting of a man, head turned to the left, in Tudor costume

Anglo-Flemish School, King Henry VIII (1491-1547), c.1527-1550 © image: Crown Copyright

What is the oldest artwork by a female artist in the Collection?

The Collection curators were over the moon to acquire this portrait by Joan Carlile which is the earliest work by a woman to enter the Collection. It was acquired in 2018, the same year as the centenary of the Representation of the People Act that gave the vote to some women in the UK for the first time.

Joan Carlile, Portrait of a Lady wearing an oyster satin dress, 1650s © image: Crown Copyright

What is the funniest artwork in the Collection?

Of course, humour is subjective… but Peter Liversidge’s posters were part of ‘Proposals for the Government Art Collection’, a multi-part work that the Government Art Collection commissioned from the artist in 2017. It was first shown at An Eyeful of Wry, an exhibition exploring humour in art that the Collection curated for the Brynmor Jones Library during Hull City of Culture 2017.

Peter Liversidge, Proposals for the Government Art Collection – joke stack, 2017 © Peter Liversidge

What is the smallest work in the Collection?

The GAC acquired this tiny sculpture by Peter Saville and Anna Blessman alongside the artists’ In Course of Arrangement work in 2008. A witty nod to the small notices that museums leave in place of an artwork temporarily removed from a display, the notices themselves have been given the status of an artwork.

work of art sitting on a plinth

Peter Saville & Anna Blessmann, Object Removed, 2005 © Peter Saville & Anna Blessman

What is the loudest work in the Collection?


Mel Brimfield, 4′ 33″ (Prepared Pianola for Roger Bannister), 2012 © Mel Brimfield / image: Crown Copyright

Find out how Mel made this work which was commissioned for the Government Art Collection in 2012 below: