The Yale Center for British Art at Yale University in downtown New Haven, Connecticut, houses the largest and most comprehensive collection of British art outside the United Kingdom. The collection of paintings, sculpture, drawings, prints, rare books, and manuscripts reflects the development of British art and culture from the Elizabethan period onward.
The Yale Center for British Art houses the largest and most comprehensive collection of British art outside the United Kingdom. Presented to the University by Paul Mellon (Yale College Class of 1929), the collection of paintings, sculpture, drawings, prints, rare books, and manuscripts reflects the development of British art and culture from the Elizabethan period to present day. On view are masterpieces by Thomas Gainsborough, J.M.W. Turner, Joshua Reynolds, and John Constable, as well as artists from Europe and America who lived and worked in Britain.The Center offers a year-round schedule of exhibitions and programs, including films, concerts, lectures, tours, symposia, and family programs. It also provides numerous opportunities for scholarly research, such as residential fellowships.
The Center was established by a gift from Paul Mellon (Yale College Class of 1929) of his British art collection to Yale in 1966, together with an endowment for operations of the Center, and funds for a building to house the works of art. The building was designed by Louis I. Kahn and constructed at the corner of York and Chapel Streets in New Haven, across the street from one of Kahn’s earliest buildings, the Yale University Art Gallery, built in 1953. The Yale Center for British Art was completed after Kahn’s death in 1974, and opened to the public on April 15, 1977. The exterior is made of matte steel and reflective glass; the interior is made of travertine marble, white oak, and Belgian linen. Kahn succeeded in creating intimate galleries where one can view objects in diffused natural light. He wanted to allow in as much daylight as possible, with artificial illumination used only on dark days or in the evening. The building’s design, materials, and sky-lit rooms combine to provide an environment for the works of art that is simple and dignified.
The Center is affiliated with the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art in London, which awards grants and fellowships, publishes academic titles, and sponsors Yale’s first credit-granting undergraduate study abroad program, Yale-in-London.
Academic resources of the Center include the reference library and photo archive, conservation laboratories, and a study room for examining works on paper from the collection. An affiliated institution in London, the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, awards grants and fellowships, publishes academic titles, and sponsors Yale’s first credit-granting undergraduate study abroad program, Yale in London.PublicationsThe Center is active in the publishing of research, and collaborates with Yale University Press on publications accompanying its major exhibitions. In conjunction with the Paul Mellon Center for Studies in British Art, the Center is also responsible for Studies in British Art, an ongoing series of essay volumes published by Yale University Press. Research ProgramsAs well as fostering public programs, the Center offers opportunities for scholars at all levels to study its collections and participate in its scholarly programs.
The Center offers short-term residential Visiting Scholar Awards at pre-doctoral and postdoctoral levels; opportunities for students at Yale and elsewhere, including travel grants, research positions, an annual Graduate Student Symposium, and a biennial Graduate Student Summer Seminar. Schools and TeachersEducation Staff works closely with local teachers to supplement classroom teaching with access to works of art, and by helping teachers integrate visual learning into their curricula. In addition, the Center offers a range of opportunities customized to the needs of teachers looking to use visual resources in their classrooms.
Yale-in-London was the University’s first credit-granting study-abroad program. It provides a unique opportunity for Yale College students to spend the spring or summer in London taking classes in the history of British Art, literature, history, and culture. The program is based at the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art. Yale Student Guide ProgramThe Center is home to an active undergraduate Student Guide Program. Admittance to the program is highly competitive and guides offer to the public specially devised tours of the collections every Saturday and Sunday during the academic year. Each year the guides curate an Art in Focus exhibition, presenting objects from the collections to the public and gaining experience in every aspect of exhibition practice. Reference Library and ArchivesThe Reference Library, open to researchers of all types, houses 30,000 titles and more than eighty periodicals devoted to British art, artists, and culture from the sixteenth century to the present day. It maintains a growing and vital collection of art conservation and technical analysis materials and offers a station for viewing many of the Center’s past lectures and programs. A Photograph Archive, located within the Reference Library, is a study collection of more than 200,000 photographic reproductions of works of British art from the sixteenth to the early twentieth century. Study RoomThe Study Room is the principal means of access to prints, drawings, watercolors, rare books, manuscripts, and maps in the Center’s collection.
Conservation LaboratoriesThe Center houses two modern facilities dedicated to the conservation and restoration of works of art in its collection. They provide complete technical examinations of the museum’s collections. Treatments range from gentle surface cleaning to complex structural repairs. In addition to supporting its own conservation needs, the Center cares for works of art on paper from the permanent collection of the Yale University Art Gallery. Museum ShopBrowse the catalogues and books on British art; discover a unique gift for a special occasion or a beautiful object for your home; or visit the children’s section, devoted to books, toys, and games. The Museum Shop is a favorite with Center visitors for its good taste and hard-to-find items.
The collection consists of nearly 2,000 paintings and 200 sculptures, with an emphasis on the period between William Hogarth’s birth (1697) to J. M. W. Turner’s death (1851). Other artists represented include Thomas Gainsborough, George Stubbs, Joseph Wright, John Constable, Joshua Reynolds, Thomas Lawrence, Robert Polhill Bevan, Stanley Spencer, Barbara Hepworth, and Ben Nicholson.
The collection also has works by artists from Europe and North America who lived and worked in Britain. These include Hans Holbein, Peter Paul Rubens, Anthony van Dyck, Canaletto, Johann Zoffany, John Singleton Copley, Benjamin West, and James McNeill Whistler.
Some areas of emphasis of the collection are small group portraits, known as “conversation pieces”, including those by Hogarth, Gainsborough, Zoffany and Arthur Devis; landscape paintings by Gainsborough, Richard Wilson, Constable, Richard Parkes Bonington and Turner; and British sporting and animal paintings, featuring George Stubbs, John Wootton, Benjamin Marshall, and Alfred Munnings. Other genres include marine paintings, represented by Samuel Scott and Charles Brooking; London cityscapes; travel art from India, scenes of Shakespearean plays, and portraits of actors.
Sculptors represented include Louis-Francois Roubiliac, Joseph Nollekens, Francis Chantrey, Jacob Epstein, and Henry Moore.
The collection of 20,000 drawings and watercolors and 31,000 prints features British sporting art and figure drawings. It includes works by Hogarth, Paul Sandby, Thomas Rowlandson, William Blake, John Constable, Samuel Palmer, Richard Parkes Bonington, John Ruskin, J. M. W. Turner, Walter Sickert, Duncan Grant, Paul Nash, Edward Burra, Stanley Spencer, Augustus John, Gwen John, and the Pre-Raphaelites.
The Center’s collection of rare books and manuscripts comprises 35,000 volumes, including maps, atlases, sporting books, and archival material of British artists. It also has some 1,300 leaves originating in illustrated incunabula. The collection also includes a complete set of William Morris’s Kelmscott Press publications as well as a growing collection of contemporary artists’ books. The core of the collection of illustrated books is the material amassed by Major J. R. Abbey‚ one of the first collectors of British color-plate books, and includes more than 2‚000 volumes describing British life‚ customs‚ scenery‚ and travel during the period 1770–1860. The Center’s collection also contains a significant number of early maps and atlases.
The four-floor Center offers a year-round schedule of exhibitions and educational programs, including films, concerts, lectures, tours, symposia, and family programs. It also provides numerous opportunities for scholarly research, including residential fellowships. Academic resources of the Center include the reference library (40,000 volumes) and photo archive, conservation laboratories, and a study room for examining works on paper from the collection.
The Center is open to the public free of charge six days a week, and is a member of the North American Reciprocal Museums program.