Collection: Royal College of Art Collections

Coriolanus (oil on canvas), John Minton / Bridgeman Images

The Royal College of Art holds over 30 separate special collections of distinctive, rare and unique material, including archives, photographic collections, artworks and rare books. Most collections have a direct connection to the activities and history of the College, including the work of notable students, alumni and members of staff. All collections are open to anyone wishing to use the material for research. 

Girl with Yellow Background, 1998 (oil on canvas), John Bellany / Bridgeman Images

The Royal College of Art (RCA) archive is a substantial resource that documents the history and work of the RCA in multiple formats and across many decades. The majority of material dates from the post-1896 incarnation of the College, when the National Art Training School at South Kensington became the Royal College of Art, while the archive’s particular strengths lie in the period following the 1948 reorganisation of the College under Robin Darwin.

Untitled, 1982 (w/c on paper), Mary Fedden / Bridgeman Images

The RCA archive can be used to trace the evolution of courses and developments in art and design education, together with the range of work created by students, and the numerous projects, publications and exhibitions with which the College has been associated.

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.

Men's class in the Mural Rooms, c.1900 (b/w photo) / Bridgeman Images

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. 

Standing Male Nude, 19th century (oil on canvas), William Etty / Bridgeman Images

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.

Seated Nude, 1951 (oil on canvas), Peter Coker / Bridgeman Images

To see the full selection of what is currently online with Bridgeman Images, click here.

Please contact us with any questions or queries relating to this content or its use.


Back to top