John William Waterhouse, ‘The Lady of Shalott’ 1888
John William Waterhouse
The Lady of Shalott 1888

How can I propose a work of art for acquisition by Tate?

Before proposing a work for acquisition, please familiarise yourself with Tate’s collection and Acquisition and disposal policy PDF [307.02 Kb]

International art from 1900 to present – proposals, along with any supporting images or documents, should be sent by email to:

British art from 1500 to present – proposals, along with any supporting images or documents, should be sent by email to:

Submissions will be reviewed by staff in the respective curatorial teams, but please note the following:

  • We only accept proposals by email.
  • Tate is unable to accept any propsoals by post, including unsolicited art works. These will be destroyed.
  • Due to the large volume of proposals received, Tate will only be able to respond to those proposals which are viewed as priorities.
  • Tate will endeavour to respond to those proposals of suitability within two months. We are grateful for your patience while we consider them.
  • Due to the pressures on Tate curators’ time, we are unable to provide specific feedback.
  • There is no need for you to send additional materials to the offices of the Director of Tate Modern, Director of Tate Britain, or Director of Tate.

Why does Tate turn down gifts of works of art when they are free?

All potential acquisitions (including the acceptance of gifts) are reviewed by curators and presented to the Tate Trustees. The need to maintain the integrity of the collection and to consider the commitment of future resources means that the same consideration is given to offered gifts as to works offered for purchases.

How does Tate value what it acquires?

Our curators are experts in their fields and are often the best source for valuations. However, we do get external valuations for all gifts, for all works when we are hoping to get financial support for the acquisition from a charity and for any works we might be considering by serving Trustees.

What is the current policy at Tate on de-accessioning?

Under the Museums and Galleries Act 1992, Tate, like some other national museums and galleries, has the power to de-accession works in its collection by sale, exchange or gift where the object is a duplicate of another in the collection, or where a work ‘in the Board’s opinion, is unsuitable for retention in their collections and can be disposed of without detriment to the interests of students or other members of the public.’

Tate is therefore able to de-accession – but only under certain circumstances. If the work is still in good condition, is significant to the context of the national collection and would not be more accessible to the public elsewhere, we are not, under present circumstances, allowed to de-accession the work.

To date Tate has not de-accessioned by sale any works that have entered its collection other than one duplicate print by Roy Lichtenstein.

Works may also be de-accessioned by transfer between listed national museums, and may be disposed of by any means including destruction, if their condition has deteriorated to such an extent as to render them ‘useless’.

It is a condition of the Act that any proceeds arising by virtue of a disposal ‘shall be applied by the board in the acquisition of relevant objects to be added to their collection’.

To supplement this legal framework, there are a number of guidelines offering professional ethical approaches towards disposal for the museum sector. These have been helpfully summarised in the National Museums Directors Conference publication Too Much Stuff? [PDF, 146 KB].

The Trustees have agreed to the extended loan, and in some instances transfer, of a number of works from the collection in order to increase access to the works or improve their context. These arrangements have, in recent years, included an exchange of some 60 paintings between Tate and the National Gallery and similar agreements with the British Museum and Victoria and Albert Museum. Transfer of ownership means that the receiving institution takes on full responsibility for the works transferred. These loans and transfers have worked well and Tate continues to look for similar opportunities.

Tate Trustees have, from time to time, sold works or groups of works that were given to Tate with an understanding that they may be sold and not accessioned to the collection. Such examples include the sale of certain works in the Kenneth and Helena Levy Bequest, which resulted in the acquisition of important works by Lanyon, Minton and Middleditch, and the Gustav and Elly Kahnweiler Bequest, which enabled Tate to buy Georges Braque’s The Billiard Table 1945.

The Trustees have discussed the general question of very occasional ‘trading up’ in living artists’ works by sale or exchange in order to improve Tate’s holdings of those artists’ works. As a national gallery that collects contemporary art Tate faces particular challenges. When acquiring work as it is being made by artists it is not always possible to know whether the work will be representative of the artist’s career in the long run. It may be that in some circumstances the ability to revise and refine the selection of work that represents an artist could be useful and this is an area of de-accessioning which may help Tate to better manage and enhance the collection for the future. However, no specific proposals have yet been drawn up.

What is Tate’s position in relation to works of art previously stolen or looted which may have ended up in the collection?

UK national museums have been in the vanguard of international action on 1933–45 provenance research and response to Holocaust spoliation claims. In 1998, National Museums Directors Conference (NMDC) members adopted a statement of principles and proposed actions regarding spoliation of works of art during the Holocaust and World War II period. The museums agreed to undertake proactive research into 1933–45 provenance of works in their collections, and to publish details of items with uncertain provenance. This list is updated regularly and includes research from 44 national and regional museums. Sir Nicholas Serota is Chairman of the NMDC’s Spoliation Working Group which has been leading this research.

In January 2001 the government agreed to pay an ex gratia payment of £125,000 to a family in compensation for a painting they were forced to sell during their flight from the Nazis in World War II. The painting, Jan Griffier’s View of Hampton Court Palace circa 1710 by has been at Tate since 1961, having been purchased in good faith by the Friends of the Tate Gallery. Part of the settlement, welcomed by Tate, was to acknowledge this element of the work’s history in a caption that accompanies whenever it is on display.

Why is Tate supporting immunity from seizure legislation?

The National Museums Directors Conference (which includes Tate) supports immunity from seizure legislation because it believes it is important for the UKpublic to continue to benefit fully from the exchange of objects and ideas through international exhibitions. Important loans to over 25 future exhibitions at museums across the UK are at risk because international lenders are increasingly reluctant to lend to countries which do not have immunity from seizure legislation. It is essential to enable the UK public to continue to benefit from world-class exhibitions in the UK, and will bring the UK into line with other countries, including France, Switzerland, Germany and the USA. We have already lost works from exhibitions in the UK that have subsequently been added to the show when it was seen in the US. The legislation does not affect any claim on objects in UK national Collections or other museums in this country, including Holocaust spoliation claims.

What is Tate policy on acquiring works by artist Trustees?

Tate’s policy is not to acquire work by serving artist Trustees except in exceptional circumstances. These are defined as follows:

  • Tate would only consider acquisition where the work is of particular significance in relation to the artist’s overall oeuvre – i.e. unlikely to be repeated – and represents a new departure for the artist or an iconic moment.
  • Tate would only consider acquisition where the artist is one who is already represented in the collection where the opportunity for the acquisition will almost certainly not arise again in this way. Tate ensures that the price is a favourable one in part by obtaining an independent valuation.

Where there is a decision to acquire, Tate will follow these procedures:

  • The work is recommended for discussion by the Acquisitions Group and considered by the Collection Committee who make their recommendation of whether or not to acquire, to the Board of Trustees. The vendor or artist, if a member of the committee, absents him/herself from all discussions. Any concerns in relation to conflicts of interest should be referred to the Ethics Committee for advice at this stage.
  • If there is a positive recommendation, the Director will seek an independent valuation. The proposed acquisition is discussed by the Board of Trustees. The Trustee absents him/herself from all discussions.
  • Prior to making a formal commitment to acquire a work by an artist Trustee, the Board of Trustees will consult with the Charity Commission to obtain Section 26 Charities Act 1993 authority for the acquisition and refer to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.
  • The Director will report to the Board that all necessary approvals have been granted.
  • The Board of Trustees will take the formal decision to acquire the work.
  • The artist Trustee must complete the conflict of interest register and register of related party transactions which are available to the public.
  • Tate will reveal the purchase price (where the work is purchased rather than acquired by gift) to the public on announcement of the acquisition.

Does Tate ever lend to commercial shows or shows where work is for sale?

Tate does not generally lend to commercial shows.

Exceptions are made where the exhibition is a serious review of a historical moment or a retrospective of the artist. A recent example is the loan of Francis Bacon’s Triptych – August 1972 1972 to a show at the Gagosian Gallery in London. It was felt this exhibition, which was dedicated to David Sylvester, was very carefully curated and focused on a very particular group of Bacon’s triptychs, which included the work in the Tate collection.