The National Art Library

The National Art Library section brings you news about exciting new service developments, throws a spotlight on our collections, displays and research projects and provides information about electronic resources with ‘tips and wrinkles’ for making the most of them.

The National Art Library (NAL) is a reference library, open to all visitors. The collection covers the fine and decorative arts, design and art history and contains books, periodicals, auction sale catalogues, exhibition catalogues, electronic resources and other formats of material. Amongst the treasures are artists’ books, illustrated books, fine bindings and rare and unique manuscripts.

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244:3, Leaf from choir-book with initial S in red pen-work on green and blue ground depicting a dragon. Netherland. late 12th century, © V&A Museum.

Here be Dragons

When we think of the Middle Ages we often imagine a world full of knights, castles and, of course, dragons. Sightings of dragons appear periodically in medieval chronicles such as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle of AD.793 which mentions ‘dreadful fore-warnings…whirlwinds, and fiery dragons flying across the firmament”. This 15th century illustrated version of Pliny’s ‘Natural History’ […]

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Evening gown by Paul Poiret Gazette du Bon Ton no. 7 NAL 42.NN.7

The couturier who fell from grace

  A brilliant, controversial designer, innovator and pioneer of fashion whose influence has been more fully appreciated since his death. Not Alexander McQueen but French couturier Paul Poiret. Like McQueen he was seen as a maverick, confronting established fashion rules and unafraid to break away from traditional couture techniques. He was one of the first […]

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Frontispiece to 1620 version of 'Don Quixote' NAL: Dyce 2000. ©V&A Museum.

Searching for Don Quixote in the NAL

In Spain, there are efforts afoot to discover the exact location of the grave of one of the country’s greatest writers, Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra. Despite the instant popularity of his masterpiece ‘Don Quixote’, he died in poverty and was buried somewhere in the Convent of Trinitarians in Madrid, but the exact location is unknown.  […]

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Flexura Boots  ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Figure Training

 “From the earliest periods of the world’s history down to the present day it has been found necessary to employ systems of restraint and correction calculated to adapt the unformed and unfashioned figure”. Figure training or art the handmaid of nature by EDM was published in 1870, partly as a vindication of altering the human […]

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Christmas card with robin motif

National Art Library Christmas Holiday Opening Times

    The National Art Library is open as usual today (Tuesday 23rd) from 10.00 to 17.30. After that, we close for a Christmas break until Tuesday 30th December when again, we’re open during normal opening times, 10.00 to 17.30. Readers are asked NOT to submit online requests through the NAL catalogue between 24th and […]

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Brachycombes by Geoge Brookshaw

Every Lady Her Own Drawing Master

One of the main pleasures of taking up a hobby is surely acquiring all the necessary equipment, preferably new, with everything matching and on a professional scale. Women taking up watercolour painting in 1797 obviously felt the same “Every lady who has a taste for painting, furnishes herself with a box of colours, probably eighteen, […]

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John Constable

Your Affectionate Father John Constable

In 1828 John Constable found himself a widower with seven young children. Apart from his own sorrow at the death of his beloved wife Maria, a blow from which he never really recovered, he must also have had to deal with the grief and loss faced by his offspring. As a comparatively well off single […]

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Boris Anrep's Scrapbook ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Cocktails with Boris

When the mosaic floors at the National Gallery designed by Boris Anrep were completed in 1952 there was much excitement and extensive press coverage. A formal gathering at the Gallery was initially thought a fitting celebration but in the end it was left to Anrep’s friend Maud Russell to throw a party. The invitation list […]

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(c) Victoria and Albert Museum

Tales from the Crypt

Beautiful, historic library interiors also mean historic library stores, and occasionally book storage areas will need some additional care and attention to ensure they continue to provide suitable storage for the future.  Unfortunately, of course, this can limit book availability for a period.  Some essential repair work is soon to take place in the National Art Library Crypt […]

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(c) Victoria & Albert Museum

I’m Sure I’ve Seen that Library Before…

Those of you who have used the National Art Library’s reading rooms, or who may even be sitting in them as you read this, will not have failed to notice how beautiful they are.  Built between 1876 and 1884, the reading rooms were one of the show cases of the South Kensington Museum (now V&A), […]

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