Press Release

Tate Archive celebrates its 40th Anniversary with 40 Degrees of Separation display and over forty pledged gifts to the Collection

Tate Archive will celebrate its 40th anniversary this week with a fascinating new display, 40 Degrees of Separation, featuring forty items from the Tate Archive Collection, all of them interconnected in sequence.

Tate Archive will celebrate its 40th anniversary this week with a fascinating new display, 40 Degrees of Separation, featuring forty items from the Tate Archive Collection, all of them interconnected in sequence. From Kenneth Clark’s notebook when he was making the epic Civilisation for the BBC to Keith Vaughan’s suicide note, and from Jake Chapman’s schoolboy essay on his favourite painters to a loving letter from Constable to his wife, this rich diversity of material reveals undiscovered gems which provide intriguing insights into the workings of British artists and institutions over the last three centuries.

Tate Archive has also significantly enriched the Collection in its fortieth year with over forty archives pledged as gifts, thanks to the generosity of artists, individuals and institutions, Highlights of these include: 30,000 photographs taken by Gemma Levine comprising, among other items, the most comprehensive set of images documenting the last decade of Henry Moore’s life; and important bodies of material relating to Stuart Brisley, Prunella Clough, Nigel Henderson, Josef Herman, Cedric Morris, John Nash, Norman Reid and Leonard Rosoman.

The 40 Degrees of Separation display takes the viewer on a journey through specially selected exhibits showing how material is linked through art schools, institutions, exhibitions, personal relationships and artistic movements. Non-chronological, it begins with a lime-green, linen table mat designed for Heals by Terry Frost and ends with a sketchbook by Donald Rodney, a leading figure in the BLK Art Group, in which he reflects on Sickle Cell Anemia, the disease which led to his death in 1998.   

Among the forty items on display are:

  • A moving notebook entry by painter, Keith Vaughan, written at the moment of his suicide on 4 November 1977 in which he reveals his determination to take his own life.“I cannot believe I have committed suicide since nothing has happened…65 was long enough for me. It wasn’t a complete failure…”he writes, the last words before he loses consciousness.
  •  An essay written by Jake Chapman in 1980 on a school trip to the Tate gallery in which he reveals his key teenage influences and thoughts on art
  • A letter written in Morocco from Bacon to his agent Erica Brausen in 1958 in which he asks for an advance of £300. “I am getting very short as I have to buy a lot of paint” he explains.
  • Kenneth Clark’s notebook from 1968-9 from when he was making the epic Civilisation for the BBC about the history of western art. “Ask for two advisors – Gombrich and Hale, simply to tack things on. Mechanics – how much do I write. I can’t know enough so not them all. I can only give lines and …. in TV language” he writes.
  • A letter from Alfred Wallis to Ben Nicholson dated 28 January 1929 relating to a set of small boats he made for Ben and Winifred Nicholson’s children. He writes “Mr Nicholson I received your order for 10 shillings with thanks. How is the little, as he sailed is boat yet. I serpose you have a pool with you near by. If he is like I was always for boats”. (sic)
  • Walter Sickert’s stylish cream linen overalls from 1912 which he wore in Dieppe and Envermeu
  • A luxurious coil of golden hair from 1908 from Eileen Mayo, Duncan Grant’s model and muse
  • An affectionate illustrated letter from John Constable to his wife Maria in 1825 which begins “My dearest and my very true love”
  • Turner’s metal paint box which was found in his studio after his death in 1851
  • An expressive, illustrated letter from Lucian Freud to his art student friend Joan Warburton of whom he is clearly fond. It reads “Hoping this finds you as it leaves me, art, art, art. All my love Lucio”.
  • A banner made by Angus Fairhurst for a stand he shared with Damien Hirst in 1993 at A Fête Worse than Death in Hoxton Square 

40 Degrees of Separation is on display at Tate Britain in the Goodison Room until February 2011. 

Nicholas Serota, Director Tate said:
“Tate Archive is the largest archive of British art in the world with over 1 million items. The Archive is a treasure trove of histories of modern and contemporary British art, artists and their circles. We are deeply grateful to the many individuals who have generously given their archives to help build this outstanding resource.” 

Tate Archive holds over 750 archive collections that reveal the artistic and personal histories of artists over the past century. Recently catalogued archives that are now available to view include Naum Gabo’s personal papers, models and maquettes; David Page’s collection of material relating to the Hornsey School of Art sit-in 1968; a rare sketchbook by Stanley Spencer dating from around 1919-24 which included an undiscovered loose-leaf of one of his earliest portrait drawings of his brother Gilbert from 1906/9; and the records of the New English Art Club, 1886-1981. 

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Editor notes

Tate Archive catalogues, displays and makes available for research and outreach an unparalleled collection of unique and secondary items in all media about artists who have made a significant contribution to the history of fine art practice in the UK. In addition, Tate Archive houses a cornucopia of papers relating to art-world figures, critics and art historians, dealers and gallerists, as well as the records of commercial galleries, art societies, exhibiting and funding bodies, periodicals and art publishers. The Archive includes diaries, notebooks, correspondence, sketchbooks, sketches, maquettes, publications, printed ephemera and press cuttings. Tate Archive also houses extensive collections of supporting material comprising over 100,000 photographs of artists and their studios as well as artists’ photographic collections such as those of Eileen Agar, Vanessa Bell, Nigel Henderson, Barbara Ker-Seymour, Paul Nash, Tom Picton and John Piper. It also houses over 2,500 artist-designed posters and over 3,000 audio-visual artists’ interviews, talks and documentaries.