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Fine Art and Design Collections

College Collection

The Royal College of Art collection (usually known as the ‘College collection’) contains over 1,300 artworks by staff, students and friends of the College. It is predominantly a collection of paintings but also includes prints, drawings and sculpture. The collection has its origins in the 1920s but only began to expand with the appointment of Robin Darwin as Principal in 1948. Darwin felt the College should be acquiring works to celebrate its achievements, and to lend a sense of prestige to the newly introduced Senior Common Room. He initially donated various works from his own collection and encouraged staff to follow suit. By the mid 1950s, the College had begun to collect the best work of its Painting students for retention in a permanent collection, a practice that continues to this day. Alumni represented include David Hockney, Peter Blake, Chris Ofili, Tracey Emin and George Shaw, among hundreds of others. The collection also includes work by artists who were not RCA students, such as Lucian Freud and William Scott; these have mostly been donated by staff and friends of the College. A small objects collection includes silverware designed by staff and students. Works are frequently the subject of research and are often loaned to major exhibitions. Most have been digitised and may be viewed on the VADS and Public Catalogue Foundation websites.

For terms and conditions of loans, see College Collection Loans.

Graphic Design and Illustration archive (4 plan chests and c.25 boxes)

A collection of posters, catalogues, illustrated books and other materials created by students of the Graphic Design and Illustration courses and their subsequent iterations, including Communication Art & Design (from 2000) and Visual Communication (from 2012). The collection contains items dating back to the establishment of the School of Graphic Design in 1948 under Professor Richard Guyatt. Among the earliest materials are posters designed for in-house events in the 1950s and 1960s by John Sewell (graduated 1954) and Brian Haynes (graduated 1963), among many others. These complement selections in the neighbouring Printmaking archive (below) and reflect the courses’ inter-relationship at the time. Later materials help to expand existing holdings in the main College archive and include booklets, catalogues, and other publications designed by Graphic Design students for various RCA departments. A selection of typographically experimental student magazines includes Yak (1987, designed by Andy Altmann, Dave Ellis and Phil Baines, later Why Not Associates) and Studio (1992, designed by Alastair Keady). The collection also includes prints by a range of notable alumni, including Jonathan Barnbrook (graduated 1990), and unusual examples of student work such as T-shirts (Suzi Godson, 1989), tea towels (Clare Stevens, 1991), and Flexidiscs (Paul Neale, 1990). 

The work of students who specialised in illustration is also well represented through prints, posters and artists’ books. Notable alumni featured include Michael Foreman (graduated 1963), Anne Howeson (graduated 1977) and Tom Gauld (graduated 2001). One plan chest contains materials from the College’s celebrated letterpress studio and the typography workshops of Alan Kitching and Ian Gabb. These include pull sheets (proofs) from different projects, booklets and other examples of student work, together with related third-party material such as classic study booklets, and type specimen sheets from leading suppliers including Monotype and Stephenson Blake. The archive was developed and preserved over many years by Richard Doust (graduated 1965, tutor from 1986). Cataloguing and digitisation in progress. 

Gillian Patterson’s Box of Lions (1 box)

A presentation box and set of artworks given to former Painting tutor (and earlier staff member of the RCA’s Department of Design Research) Gillian Patterson, on leaving the RCA in 1988. Staff and students created small works, each depicting a lion, Patterson’s favourite animal. The box contains different interpretations of the subject in a wide range of media by Painting students of the time, including Tracey Emin and John Kirby. Staff represented include Mick Perry (letterpress technician) and then Pro-Rector John Hedgecoe. Donated by the Patterson estate. Inventory available.

Printmaking Archive       

The Printmaking archive consists largely of works donated by students on graduation, a practice that began in the 1930s and has continued ever since. The archive contains upwards of 10,000 prints and over 30 ‘publications’ (boxed sets of prints by various artists on a theme), including the series Coronation (1953), Shakespeare (1964), Thirty-Five Artists (1982) and Folio (2011). Work by staff and visiting artists has also been collected, the latter including prints by Cornelia Parker, Paula Rego and Terry Frost, among others. As the archive spans over eight decades, it provides an opportunity to study emerging techniques and themes while reflecting the changing status of printmaking at the RCA as it moved from the School of Engraving (1930s) to Graphic Design (from 1950s) to a Fine Art programme in its own right (from 1985). Related materials include artists’ books created by Printmaking staff and students, including Dick Jewell, Christiane Baumgartner and Nigel Rolfe, and papers relating to the operations of the department (administered as part of the College archive). A programme of cataloguing and digitisation is in progress. Partial inventory available.

Click here for Special Collections access, location and appointments information.


+44 (0)20 7590 4234

[email protected]

Please note, access to the collections is by appointment only.