British Council

For more than 70 years the British Council has been collecting works of art, craft and design to promote the achievements of the UKs best artists, craft practitioners and designers abroad. The Collection - which began in the late 1930s, with a modest group of works on paper - has now grown to a collection of national importance comprising more than 9000 artworks, from paintings and prints, to drawings, photography, multi-media and installations. The Collection has no permanent gallery and has been referred to as a 'Museum Without Walls'.

The collection can be browsed and searched here.

How to apply for works from the British Council Collection

Works of art from the British Council Collection are available for use in the public areas of British Council premises on request. Requests are assessed on the basis of corporate need and environmental security. The use of works of art in decorative schemes for new, or newly refurbished, premises should be discussed with the Collections Team as early as possible. Requests should be accompanied by detailed descriptions of the areas in which works are to be displayed, giving dimensions of walls and floors, the placement of windows, the principal use of the area and the predominant colour schemes. Photographs should be sent, whenever possible. Collection staff are willing to visit offices whenever necessary, to advise on the selection and display of works, provided that all travel costs are met by the borrowing office. Installation of large, vulnerable or valuable works should always be undertaken by Visual Arts technicians or companies recommended by the Department - travel, fees and subsistence costs will be borne by the borrowing office. After discussion a selection will be made and photographs of possible works will be sent. When confirming the selection please ensure that there is sufficient space for the works, that the environment (temperature, lighting and humidity) is stable and that security is adequate.

Duration of loan:

Works of art from the British Council Collection are sent to British Council premises on a 5 year loan basis. At the end of the 5 year period works must be returned to Visual Arts. Some categories of object are subject to additional export restrictions and must be returned within 3 years.

Financial responsibilities:

The office requesting art works from the British Council Collection is responsible for all costs for transporting art works from Visual Arts’ storage facility to the office, and from the office back to Visual Arts’ storage facility, as well as any additional installation costs. Visual Arts will supply cases for transport. If cases are not retained the borrowing office is responsible for costs of making new cases of the same specification for return. 

Inventory and dispatch of artwork

It can take up to six months for art works to be despatched as the schedule at the workshop prioritises work for loan and International Touring Exhibitions. If works are required by a particular date for a particular purpose this should be stated at the start of negotiations. Works will be packed by the workshop into standard blue British Council cases; these should be kept indoors in a clean, dry environment. All works will be sent by airfreight or road, unless otherwise agreed. Visual Arts or their agents will send copies of the airway bill and flight details as far in advance of shipment as possible, and all customs procedures at the receiving end should be investigated before the works arrive. Cases should be collected from the airport without delay and, ideally, left to rest for 24 hours before being opened. Responsibility must be assigned to a named individual for care, custody and security of the British Council art works on loan to your office. Each year a return listing all works of art on loan must be submitted to Visual Arts Department:

 Towards the end of the financial year Visual Arts will issue a Template return form on which offices must record the works of art on their premises and comment on their condition.

 Offices are required to report to Visual Arts even if the inventory has not changed or they do not have works of art on site.

 Offices are required to submit a new labelled date-stamped photograph of each British Council Collection art work, in situ, each year.

 Returns must be submitted to Visual Arts before mid-February (check timetable each year). The NAO will carry out checks on various offices from February onwards.

Use of British Council Collection artworks

It is a legal requirement that purchases made for the Collection from public funds adhere to the 'public access' policy - that is that works should only be hung in public areas or offices where outside contacts attend meetings, seminars, etc. Works can only be offered on loan to other organisations after consultation with Visual Arts. Such loans must be fully documented. Visual Arts should be put in contact with the potential borrower to administer this documentation. Once installed, works of art should only be removed from the premises for return to London. British Council Collection works should not be moved between offices without prior consultation with Visual Arts. If art works are temporarily taken off display and stored Visual Arts must be consulted. If art works are not needed for display they must be returned to London, rather than retained in storage. Familiarity can breed contempt: works of art in offices and residences tend to become part of the everyday landscape. It is important to remember that these works are part of a national collection and the onus for their well-being lies with the borrowing Directorate. If there is no longer room to display art works they should be removed and returned to Visual Arts. Works should be condition checked regularly (see Condition Checking notes). If the condition of any work is causing concern contact Visual Arts for advice as soon as possible.