The Courtauld Institute in London is considering drastic cuts to its three archives of images, including the Witt Library. From September, they would only open one day a week and effectively cease to collect. This proposal is causing great concern amongst art historians, as well as the art trade, since it is a major resource.
More than three million images are kept in London’s Somerset House and are currently open to the public every weekday. The plan is that the libraries would open only one day a week. The Witt Library holds around two million photographs and reproductions of paintings that are pasted onto thin card and stored in file boxes, classified by national school, then artist, and finally subdivided by iconography. Covering the period from 1200AD to the present, 70,000 artists are represented. The library’s origins go back to the image collection begun by Sir Robert Witt, who bequeathed it to the Courtauld in 1952.
The Conway Library is a similar collection, covering architecture, sculpture and some decorative art. Begun by Lord Conway, it was donated to the Courtauld in 1932 and now comprises around one million images.
The Photographic Survey records paintings, works on paper and sculptures in private historic collections (mainly those of aristocratic families) in England, Wales and Ireland. It began in the early 1950s, in association with New York’s Frick Art Reference Library, and now covers nearly 600 collections.