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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Standing tall: Size matters

Men's platform heels, Italy, ca.1972-75

A review of ‘Standing tall: The curious history of men in heels’ at the Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto. Who would’ve thought that a few inches could be so significant, but in the case of men’s heels it appears that size really does matter. ‘Standing tall: The curious history of men in heels’ is a thought-provoking exhibition at the […]

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A New Line from South Kensington to Bexhill on Sea

Proof for front cover for 'die neue linie', NAL 38041800796336.

Some exhibitions really do stem from a casual chat between curators over drinks. About a year ago, a curator from the De La Warr Pavilion at Bexhill on the south coast was talking about their plans to celebrate their iconic 1930s Modernist building to an NAL curator. Our curator mentioned a collection of material in […]

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Christmas at the National Art Library

Image: The first Christmas card, commissioned by Henry Cole and designed by John Callcott Horsley, 1843

Lithograph coloured by hand.

Museum number L.3293-1987 (c) Victoria and Albert Museum

The V&A is a wonderful place to visit at Christmas, with lots of festive displays, activities, and events for all!  One display that has just opened is Season’s Greetings: Victorian Christmas cards in Room 108, which features amongst other items the ‘first Christmas card’ commissioned by Henry Cole and designed by the artist John Callcott […]

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Alken, Alkin and the invisible plates: documenting illustration in the library catalogue

Samuel Alken after William Gilpin. Aquatint plate from: Gilpin, William. ‘Remarks on forest scenery, and other woodland views, (relative chiefly to picturesque beauty)' Vol. 2 (London: printed for R. Blamire, 1791). NAL: 38041800769051

Whilst consulting William Gilpin’s ‘Remarks on forest scenery’, I noticed this statement in the list of plates: “Of these drawings all the landscape-part, which I hope the public will think with me is very masterly, was executed by Mr. Alkin”. The landscape illustrations are unsigned aquatints. I had recently been cataloguing William Maton’s ‘Observations relative […]

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New Peepshow Discoveries Come to Light

Fig. 1. Paris la Nuit, ca. 1860.

A Guest Post from Marie-Alix de Cools in Book Conservation The V&A recently received a wonderful collection of nearly 400 paper peepshows and other optical devices, a collection which had been assembled over a period of 30 years by Jacqueline and Jonathan Gestetner (see recent blog post on this topic).           During my internship in […]

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Divers oiled colours: Exploring the history of marbled paper in the National Art Library

A differently combed pattern on the endpapers and edges of a book.

Have you ever wondered how that beautiful marbled paper found inside and on the covers of old books is made, or where it comes from? At the National Art Library we have huge amounts of this once common place material, and I am regularly hypnotised by these fantastic patterns! The technique of marbling paper has […]

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V&A Illustration Awards 2017 … who’s next?

9 Book Illustration Award Jason Brooks Bedford Square

Last week, in prepping for the opening of the 2017 V&A Illustration Awards, we found ourselves browsing through previous winners of the competition. The breath and scope of illustration styles is still astounding and every year, as the entries start rolling in, we often find ourselves wondering …which one of these artists will be next […]

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Could you be the next Experienced English Housekeeper?

Portrait of Elizabeth Raffald published in, The Experienced English Housekeeper, 1803.

At the April Friday Late, Baroque to the Future, the V&A put on a talk entitled: Sippets and Syllabubs: Eating in Style in Georgian Europe. Held at the National Art Library, any of the lucky 40 members of the public who bagged a seat would have heard of the cook and author Elizabeth Raffald. You […]

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Architects reading architects: Stephen Riou, Vignola and the recording of provenance

Regola delli cinque ordini d'architettura, by Vignola. Book, published Rome: Gio: Battista de Rossi, [162-?]. NAL: L.5665-1961

When buying a second-hand book, you might consider a previous owner’s name scribbled on the title page to be a disfigurement, something that reduces the value, or makes you seek out a different copy. However, when we are dealing with rare books, marks of ownership can make a book more interesting, giving us information about […]

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Tiepolo’s Apollo and Daphne

G.B. Tiepolo, Apollo and Daphne © V&A Museum

Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s Apollo and Daphne was universally admired during the 17th century. In Filippo Baldinucci‘s Life of Bernini (1598-1680), the marble group of Apollo and Daphne is cast as the youthful sculptor’s first great public triumph. Baldinucci describes the statue’s reception as follows: “Immediately when it was seen to have been finished, there arose […]

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