British photographic history

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Online: Frick Art Reference Library photo archive records

The Frick Art Reference Library was founded in 1920 to serve “adults with a serious interest in art,” among them scholars, art professionals, collectors, and students. The Library’s book and photograph research collections relate chiefly to paintings, drawings, sculpture, and prints from the fourth to the mid-twentieth centuries by European and American artists.

The Photoarchive comprises more than one million study photographs and other reproductions divided into national schools and representing more than 37,000 artists trained in the Western tradition. The photographs record paintings, drawings, sculpture, and illuminated manuscripts.

This collection has been systematically built through purchases and gifts from photographers, museums, scholars, and dealers in the United States and Europe. More than 56,000 original negatives were created for the Photoarchive between 1922 and 1967 in a pioneering project to photograph works of art in private homes and small public collections throughout the United States, historic monuments in remote areas of Italy, and works sold at London auctions between 1921 and 1932.

Through this two-year project, the Frick digitized 15,000 endangered negatives within the larger collection of 60,000 Library negatives and developed the interface to make the images freely available online. The negatives were the products of photography expeditions during the first half of the twentieth century to Alabama, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. In many cases the images record early states of the works of art, prior to restoration or deterioration, and in some instances, they remain the only record of a work that has been subsequently lost or destroyed. 

With this new online access to the Frick Photoarchive research database records and the digital image archive, the Frick is now poised to incorporate a growing number of documented images from its visual resource holdings. These images complement other visual resources contributed by the NYARC partners, thereby ensuring that a broader community of researchers will have access to these unique collections.

This image archive, which may be accessed via the Web site of The Frick Collection (, was made possible by funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the Henry Luce Foundation. The official press release can be found here.


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