Collage describes both the technique and the resulting work of art in which pieces of paper, photographs, fabric and other ephemera are arranged and stuck down onto a supporting surface

Barry Martin, 'Movement Collage' 1965
Barry Martin
Movement Collage 1965
© Barry Martin

Introduction to collage

The term collage derives from the French term papiers collés (or découpage), used to describe techniques of pasting paper cut-outs onto various surfaces. It was first used as an artists’ technique in the early twentieth century.

Collage can also include other media such as painting and drawing, and contain three-dimensional elements.

Development of collage

Browse the slideshow below and read the image captions to find out how artists have used collage through the decades:

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  • Pablo Picasso, 'Bottle of Vieux Marc, Glass, Guitar and Newspaper' 1913
    Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque first began to make papiers collés, in 1912 adding newspaper clippings and printed papers to their still lifes. These synthetic cubist works emphasised the flatness of the picture surface. (See the glossary page for cubism to find out more).
  • Raoul Hausmann, 'The Art Critic' 1919-20
    The dada art movement used collage and photomontage to create absurd imagery but also to make powerful satirical artworks which criticised the horrors of the first world war. (See the glossary page for dada to find out more).
  • Sir Roland Penrose, 'Magnetic Moths' 1938
    Surrealist artist Max Ernst invented the surrealist collage, putting together images clipped from magazines, product catalogues, book illustrations, advertisements and other sources to create a strange new reality. Other surrealists, such as Roland Penrose made use of this technique. (See the glossary page for appropriation to find out more)
  • Sir Eduardo Paolozzi, 'I was a Rich Man's Plaything' 1947
    British pop artists from the 1950s and 1960s used collage to explore imagery associated with popular culture, such as advertising, packaging and models in magazines. Paolozzi and his contemporaries parodied the aspirational consumer lifestyle served up in glossy magazines. (See the glossary page for pop art to find out more)
  • Jacques Mahé de la Villeglé, 'Jazzmen' 1961
    In the 1960s artists associated with nouveau réalisme (a French movement which was a counterpart to pop art) developed the décollage, or torn poster technique, making striking works from accumulated layers of posters removed from advertising hoardings. (See the glossary page for nouveau réalisme to find out more)
  • Richard Hamilton, 'Just what is it that makes today's homes so different?' 1992
    The development of computers and picture editing software has allowed artists to experiment digitally with collage. In the 1992 pop artist Richard Hamilton created a digital version of his iconic pop art work Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different?
  • Layla Curtis, 'United Kingdom' 1999
    Collage remains a well-used technique in contemporary art, with artists often using it to alter familiar images in order to make the viewer question perceived assumptions and truths. Artist Layla Curtis cuts up and reassembles maps, altering borders of countries and changing place names.

Further resources

Tate Debate: what is the relevance of collage in the digital age?
This blogpost looks at the collage works of Kurt Schwitters and Richard Hamilton and asks what happens to collage when it is made digitally: is it a collage or something else entirely?

Watch Peter Blake in his London studio as he begins work on a new collage piece and talks about his act of collecting and which artists influenced his making.

In focus: Kurt Schwitters – the everyday into art

Kurt Schwitters, 'Opened by Customs' 1937-8
Kurt Schwitters
Opened by Customs 1937-8
Paper collage, oil and pencil on paper
© DACS, 2002

Dada artist Kurt Schwitters created collages from everyday materials that he found around him ranging from bus tickets and sweet packets to adverts in magazines. Schwitters invented the concept of Merz – ‘the combination, for artistic purposes of all conceivable materials’.

My father wanted certain parts of his collages read and understood, intellectually, and he often made these the actual titles of his works. Usually, they were witty, ironical or even sarcastic
Ernst Schwitters

Schwitters in Britain
This exhibition which was at Tate Britain in 2013 focused on the artist’s British period, from his arrival in Britain as a refugee in 1940. It included over 150 collages, assemblages and sculptures. Read the exhibition guide and see what artworks were on display.

Curator Karin Orchard in her exhibition catalogue essay wrote of Schwitters’s Merz:

Following his experiences in the First World War, Schwitters decided to create something new from the rubble of the old world and henceforth concentrated on collages: ‘You can also shout with items from rubbish heaps, and that is what I did, by pasting and nailing them together’… In the hands of Schwitters, Hannah HochGeorge GroszJohn Heartfield and the other dadaists disparate materials from all sorts of sources retain their own identity and are combined to create an entirely new self-sufficient composition. Collage and montage become groundbreaking, structural concepts in modernism

Curator’s talk: Schwitters in Britain
Emma Chambers, curator of Schwitters in Britain provides some exclusive insights into the creation of the exhibition and discusses some of the key works on display.  

i-map animation: Kurt Schwitter’s Opened by Customs
This animation provides a fascinating exploration of Schwitters’s collage technique as it takes us through, step-by-step, the artists’s construction of his work Opened by Customs 1937-8.

Schwitters in Britain: can you identify the collaged figure?
As well as providing a concise explanation about some of Schwitters’s main collage artworks, this blog post sets a challenge: Can you identify collaged figures in Schwitters’s EN MORN 1947?.

In foucs: John Stezaker – myth, nostalgia and multiplicity

Collage allows the opening up of conscious, which is very direct…its also a way of looking at what you are consuming all the time.
John Stezaker 

John Stezaker, 'Mask XIII' 2006
John Stezaker
Mask XIII 2006
© John Stezaker
John Stezaker, 'Mask XIV' 2006
John Stezaker
Mask XIV 2006
© John Stezaker

John Stezaker makes collages and photomontages, an approach he has been using since he was a student at the Slade school of art in the 1960s. He is particularly fascinated by post-war consumer imagery from 1950s–60s, from film stills to postcards.

Whatever one’s thinking about the late 1950s, early 1960s, its left us with a wonderful repository of myth which perhaps I’m exploring…it represents a smaller and simpler world.

Watch this 2006 interview with John Stezaker, where he explains his interest in collage and found objects.

Work of the week: The Oath by John Stezaker
Curator and writer Brian Dillon discusses Stezaker’s mysterious collage The Oath, which was included in Ruin Lust an exhibition on display at Tate Britain in 2014.

Audio arts: John Stezaker
In this wide ranging interview Stezaker discusses the multiplicity of collage and how the act of making it is a form of child’s play and a return to childhood innocence.

John Stezaker on Joseph Cornell
John Stezaker reveals his debt to surrealist and assemblage maker Joseph Cornell.

Collage in detail

Watch multi-media performance artist Joan Jonas discuss her densely collaged narrative texts, videos and film collages.

Merzzeichnung: Typology and Typography
This article considers the place of drawing in the development of Schwitters’s Merz practice and argues that the close connection he made between drawings and collages was not merely because of their common status as works on paper.

Essay: Sarah Wilson, Kurt Schwitters in England
This research essay by Professor Sarah Wilson discusses how Schwitters’s feelings of isolation from his exile to Britain informed his artwork including collages.

Schwitters in context: The British years
Listen to the audio recording of this conference which discusses Schwitters’s British period and its broader context, including the relationship between abstraction and representation in his work.

Paolozzi’s Pop New Brutalist World
This Tate Paper looks at the collage work of Eduardo Paolozzi and argues that his engagement with mass media and modern industry, combined pop tendencies with the logic of new brutalism. 

Paula Rego: 1960s political collages
Find out more about Portuguese artist Paula Rego’s highly subversive, overtly political, collage-based works which express her hatred of the oppressive conditions she grew up with.

Collage for kids

Poetry collage
This Tate Kids activity, the fourth Textile Tryout, will inspire kids to see collage in a different way.

Peter Blake, 'The Toy Shop' 1962
Peter Blake
The Toy Shop 1962
© Peter Blake 2002. All rights reserved, DACS

Related glossary terms

Papier Collé, montage, photomontage, mixed mediadadaneo-dada, arte nucleare, nouveau réalisme, décollage, merz, pop art, surrealism, Independent Group.