History of the Collection

The Arts Council Collection began when the Arts Council of Great Britain was founded in 1946. It took over a small group of paintings from the Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts (CEMA) and its aim was to promote and encourage the appreciation of contemporary art through touring exhibitions.

The Collection has continued to grow, acquiring innovative works each year and circulating these as widely as possible. There are now almost 8,000 works in the Collection, including paintings, sculptures, original works on paper, prints and moving image.

The Collection includes important and often early works by all of the most important artists working in the UK over the last 70 years, including Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, Ben Nicholson, Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, Victor Pasmore, David Hockney, Bridget Riley, Gilbert & George, Richard Hamilton, Richard Deacon, Antony Gormley, Mark Wallinger, Peter Doig, Damien Hirst, Rachel Whiteread, Chris Ofili, Steve McQueen, Mona Hatoum, Tracey Emin, Sarah Lucas, Grayson Perry, Glenn Brown, Jeremy Deller, Keith Coventry and Wolfgang Tillmans.

Since 1986, the Arts Council Collection has been managed by the Southbank Centre, on behalf of Arts Council England. It is now based at the Southbank Centre, London, and at Longside, Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

Discover key moments in the Collection's history using the timeline below.

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Timeline

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Arts Council of Great Britain (ACGB), created as a successor to the Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts (CEMA), taking responsibility for CEMA's collection of modern British paintings; this forms the nucleus of the Arts Council Collection
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ACGB commission Henry Moore’s Reclining Figure and organises three touring exhibitions for the Festival of Britain, including ‘60 paintings for 51’, for which each of the 60 artists are invited to paint a 'large' painting measuring 45 x 60 inches.
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ACC acquires a painting by Francis Bacon, Head VI (1949) and another by Lucian Freud, Cock's Head (1951). ACC acquires an early work by Peter Lanyon, Bicyclist in Penwith (1952), and goes on to amass a strong holding of works by the St Ives based artists.
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From the early 1960s onwards the purchasing committee focuses exclusively on contemporary art. David Hockney’s We Two Boys Together Clinging (1961), produced while still a student at the Royal College of Art is among the works acquired at this time.
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ACC acquires its first painting by Bridget Riley, Movement in Squares (1962). Riley recalls: “This was a most surprising and encouraging event. It was my first acquisition by a public collection. It made me feel that I had indeed at last found my way."
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ACC starts to acquire documentary photography through the Arts Council - the Photography Collection is held at Sheffield Polytechnic (Hallam University) and is used mainly as a teaching resource.
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ACC acquires first work by new generation of sculptors: Tony Cragg's New Stones - Newton's Tones (1978). Publication of Arts Council Collection: Acquisitions 1942-1978 (volume 1). 9.6 per cent of the works are by women artists.
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ACGB transfers its exhibition-making activities - Hayward Gallery, National Touring Exhibitions and ACC - to newly formed South Bank Centre (SBC), following the Greater London Council's (GLC) demise.
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Purchase of Richard Deacon's Kiss and Tell (1989) with the assistance of The Henry Moore Foundation and the National Art Collections Fund. It is the first work to be acquired for ACC with the direct assistance of outside agencies
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ACC acquires Antony Gormley's installation, Field for the British Isles (1993) with the assistance of The Henry Moore Foundation and the National Art Collections Fund.
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Charles Saatchi gives 100 works by 63 artists to the Arts Council Collection. Select exhibition of works from the Saatchi gift opens at the Mappin, Sheffield; this is the first of several Select exhibitions focusing on the Saatchi gift.
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Relocation of sculpture in the ACC to a new operating base at Longside, Yorkshire Sculpture Park alongside launch of new exhibitions programme at the adjacent Longside Gallery.
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Roger Hiorns’ acclaimed Artangel-commissioned installation, Seizure, is acquired by ACC. The work, weighing over 31 tonnes, is extracted from the original property in Elephant and Castle and transported to Yorkshire Sculpture Park.
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The Arts Council Collection together with British Council jointly acquire Grayson Perry’s The Vanity of Small Differences, a series of six tapestries created by the artist alongside the Channel 4 series ‘All in the Best Possible Taste with Grayson Perry'
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ACC Celebrates its 70th Birthday with a series of new commissions by contemporary artists and the launch of the National Partners Programme.

Discover The Collection

Latest Acquisitions

See the newest work in the Collection. New works are acquired each year with a focus on innovative work made by artists living in Britain.
Sculpture at Longside

The Collection's sculpture centre housing over 800 works is located within the grounds of Yorkshire Sculpture Park.
Exhibitions

Discover more about the exhibitions near you, browse through the archive or find out about our future shows.
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The Arts Council Collection is the UK's most widely seen collection of modern and contemporary art.

With nearly 8,000 works by over 2,000 artists, it can be seen in exhibitions and public displays across the country and beyondThis website offers unprecedented access to the Collection, and information about each work can be found on this site.