An item from the Library's Special Collections

Special collections

From October 2022 onwards, the refurbishment of our Somerset House space will require our Special Collections, including the Closed Access Book Store (CABS) and Archive collections, to be placed offsite in deep storage. This is a necessary action to preserve the long-term integrity of these collections. During this time, there will be no access at all to our Special Collections material.


Closed Access Book Store (CABS)

The Book Library’s Closed Access Book Store (CABS) consist of a number of bequests from former members of staff and/or scholars associated with the Institute. There is also a general collection comprised of rare and fragile material.  The majority of the items held in CABS are accessible through the card or online catalogue. All material acquired since 1992 is available through the Book Library’s online catalogue.

CABS Contents

General Collection

The General Collection comprises more than 3000 items donated or purchased by the Institute since the 1930s. This is printed material relating to the history of art, dating from the early 16th-century to the present day, about half of which is in foreign languages. Specific subjects covered include; architecture, engraving, drawing, painting and sculpture, from ancient times to modern; early guidebooks to Italy and France, travellers’ accounts and descriptions of classical sites, emblem books, artists’ lives and general works of art history and theory.

Criteria for placing items in CABS include age and rarity, unusual formats and conservation concerns.

In addition there are a number of bequests. These are collections which were formed around the interests of particular figures formerly associated with the Institute. The bequests are described in this guide, with biographical information about the collector. Most of the bequests contained both published material as well as archives. Please see the information on the Archives for further information about the unpublished papers held as part of the bequests.

Blunt Collection

Anthony Blunt (1907-1983) was Director of the Courtauld Institute between 1947 and 1974. Throughout this time he donated publications to the Library and after his death the Courtauld received most of the rest of his library. In the forty years between 1939-1979, Blunt produced a body of work which testifies to his importance in the field of art history. In 1940, his Cambridge fellowship dissertation was published as Artistic Theory in Italy 1450-5644. There then followed a stream of scholarly works focusing particularly on Poussin, French 17th-century art and architecture, Italian Baroque architecture and the Royal Collections. Blunt’s scholarship was indebted to the primary source material in his collection. The Library now holds his collection of early printed books, some 500 titles in total.

Seilern Collection

Count Antoine Seilern (1901-1978) bequeathed most of his collection of works of art, now known as the Princes Gate Collection, and his entire library to the Institute. After he arrived in England from Vienna in 1939, Count Seilern became a personal friend of Johannes Wilde by way of their shared interests. His art collection is the result of nearly fifty years of a scholarly approach to acquisition and ranges over some 600 years from an early Italian altarpiece through to works from the 20th-century. The book collection reflects Seilern’s art interests and particular strengths are Flemish and Italian art, especially Venetian artists of the 16th- and 18th-centuries. His collection about or illustrated by Rubens is probably one of the finest in existence. 

Wilde Collection

Johannes Wilde (1891-1970) bequeathed his collection of drawings, engravings, books, photographs and manuscripts to the Institute. The Book Library holds his books as well as his collection of off-prints and archive material. Wilde’s association with the Institute began after WWII when he was appointed Reader in History of Art, becoming Deputy Director in 1948. Although his scholarly interests were wide ranging, his most significant contribution was the re-assessment of Michelangelo’s drawings as exhibited at The British Museum in 1953 and the catalogue published in the same year. His collection of books also reflects another of his great passions, 16th century Venetian painting. His lectures, addressed to students at the Courtauld during the 1950s, about Venetian painting, were published posthumously in 1974 followed by his lectures on Michelangelo in 1978. The Library also holds in its archives unpublished lectures concerning painting in Parma and Ferrara and Florentine art. 

Antal Collection

Frederick Antal (1887-1954) studied under Max Dvorak in Vienna, and worked with Johannes Wilde in Budapest at the Museum of Fine Arts. He spent some time in Florence and Berlin before settling in England in 1933 where he occasionally lectured at the Courtauld. He was especially interested in the methods of art history and he developed a Marxist interpretation in the field. His international reputation was established with his book on Florentine painting of the 14th and early 15th century, published in 1948. Antal’s collection of books includes a fine selection of works on Hogarth, an artist to whom he applied his Marxist approach toward the end of his life.

Boase Collection

Thomas Sherrer Ross Boase (1898 -1974) was Director of the Courtauld between 1937 -1947. He had studied mediaeval history at Oxford and had a lifelong interest in the history of the Church. He turned his attention to the history of art during the 1930s and travelled widely throughout Europe and the Middle East. While based at Cairo during the war years, in charge of British Council activities in the Middle East, he developed an interest in the history of the Crusades and took the opportunity to study Islamic and Christian monuments in the area. He left the Library a collection of material about the history of the Crusades, architecture and travel in the Middle East.

Bell Collection

Anne Olivier Bell (1916-2018) gave this collection of 45 books on British and Italian art to The Courtauld Institute of Art. She was an alumna of The Courtauld, and one of the Monuments Men who sought to preserve cultural artifacts in Germany following World War 2 and restore works of art stolen by the Nazis. Anne was also known as a member of the Bloomsbury Group and editor of Virginia Woolf’s dairies.

The collection consists mainly of works from the 16th to the 19th Century. Anne inherited the books from her father, the art historian Arthur Popham (1889-1970), who was Keeper of Prints & Drawings at the British Museum from 1945 to 1954. The books reflect his interests, focusing on both British and Italian art. The Courtauld holds a number of catalogues compiled by Popham.

Portfolios Collection

There is an extensive collection of portfolios that reflects the subjects contained in the book collections. They range from reproductions from museum collections to architectural series on chateaux in France; from Byzantine wall paintings to publications of the Dürer Society; from embroidery to the drawings of Hans Holbein. This collection is not on the online catalogue and requests require advance notice.

Shearman Collection

The Book Library received, through the Somerset House Art History Foundation, the library of Professor John Shearman, who was Charles Adams University Professor Emeritus at Harvard University when he died in 2003. He was a distinguished scholar of Italian Renaissance art and served as Deputy Director of the Courtauld Institute of Art from 1974 – 1979, and was made an Honorary Fellow of the Institute in 2000/2001. His library contains substantial resources about Renaissance and Baroque art, including catalogues raisonné of Italian painters and approximately 200 monographs about Raphael, about whom he collected any substantive books and articles.

A project, generously funded by the Foyle Foundation has made it possible to catalogue his bequest (although not entirely completed). This project complements the bequests of Anthony Blunt, Johannes Wilde (Shearman’s thesis supervisor) and Antoine Seilern, bringing the study resources for the Renaissance and Baroque periods up to the 21st century. His texts are often annotated and a large number have been inscribed to him by colleagues and peers, helping to build the picture of his network, his influence, and the regard his peers had for him.

Harris Collection of Textiles

Formed by Lionel Harris between 1876 and 1938, the collection contains fragments of Flemish and French tapestries, Spanish and Asian carpets, silks and embroideries and 15th and 16th century Spanish ecclesiastical pieces. It also includes woven fragments of Spanish, Italian and French silk velvets, damasks, brocatelles, brocades and trimmings dating from the 15th to the 19th century. Enriqueta Frankfort, Concita Wolff and Violeta Harris, Lionel Harris’s daughters, gifted the collection to The Courtauld in 1972 in memory of their brother Tomas.


The Book Library also holds archives bequeathed to it, including: the research papers of Anthony Blunt, Johannes Wilde and T.S.R. Boase; correspondence by Lord Lee of Fareham (one of the Institute’s founders); correspondence and diaries of the artists Augustus Callcott, Philip Wilson Steer and James Duffield Harding; correspondence of the architect Philip Webb.

Archive Contents

Anthony Blunt Papers (CI/AFB)

Blunt’s files of research notes, particularly those on Poussin, together with scrapbooks of cuttings of his articles published between the 1930’s and 1960’s. There is a small quantity of miscellaneous personal material; the majority of the material is scholarly.

Archive code: (CI/AFB)

T.S.R. Boase

Relates to Boase’s interest in the Crusader Kingdoms, and should be viewed in relation to his bequest of books on this subject to the Library. The core of this collection is photographs of Crusader architecture in Greece, Turkey, Serbia and Croatia, taken by his friend David Wallace, in the years before the Second World War. The negatives of many of these photographs are now held in the Conway Library, and negative numbers for as many of the photographs as possible have been given.

Archive code: (CI/TSRB)

Augustus Wall Callcott

The collection consists mainly of travel journals kept by Callcott on his extended honeymoon in Europe in 1827-28.

Archive code:  (CI/AWC)

Courtauld Institute Papers

Papers trace the Courtauld Institute’s history from foundation in the early 1930s to the present day.

There is a general finding aid for this collection but it has not yet been sorted or listed to any great degree.

The Devis Family

A small collection, consisting mainly of material collected by Sydney Pavière for his book “The Devis Family of Painters” (1950).

Archive code: (CI/DEV)

George Field Notebooks

Photographic prints of the pages of ten notebooks kept by the colour theorist and chemist, George Field, including ms drafts of his published works. There are also colour slides recording colour samples within the notebooks. The original books are held by Winsor & Newton.

There is no finding aid for this collection but it is available for use in consultation with the Librarian.

A.J. Finberg

Press-cutting books containing articles by the art critic A.J. Finberg, or relating to the art world in general. The volumes cover the years 1902-1914.

Archives code: (CI/AJF)

J.J. Foster

Manuscript material and cuttings regarding the study of miniatures and miniature artists. Foster published several volumes on various aspects of miniature painting, and a dictionary of miniature artists was produced posthumously, edited by his daughter, Ethel.

Archive code: (CI/JJF)

Hammelmann / Boase

The material consists mainly of Hammelmann’s original files on Eighteenth century book illustrators, which were handed over to Boase on Hammelmann’s death in 1969. Boase attempted to pull Hammelmann’s notes together for publication. He had almost finished it when he died in 1974. The book “English Eighteenth-century Book Illustrators” was subsequently completed and published under their joint authorship in 1975. 

Archive code: (CI/HAH)

James Duffield Harding

A collection of journals, diaries and account books kept by Harding from the 1820’s until his death in 1861. The run is not complete, and many of the diaries deal more with Harding’s work-related commitments than his personal life. There are also one or two manuscripts relating to his work.

Archive code: (CI/JDH)

Lee of Fareham

The papers, which came to the Courtauld after the dispersal of the Beaverbrook Library, comprise mainly Lee’s personal papers, some of which date back to his military career in the 1890’s. Material includes letters and documents related to his marriage, political career, the handing over of the Lees’ home, “Chequers”, to the nation in 1919, Lee’s art collection, and the founding and early administration of the Courtauld Institute. There is correspondence with the Roosevelt family, especially President Theodore Roosevelt, with whom Lee became friendly when he taught in Canada in the mid1890’s. There is also correspondence with many of the leading political figures of the early part of this century, including Lloyd George and Churchill, and with many members of the art establishment such as Duveen, Berenson and Kenneth Clark.

There is a general finding aid for this collection but it has not yet been sorted or listed to any great degree.

Philip Wilson Steer

The papers came to the Institute as the gift of Dorothea Hamilton, Steer’s niece and executor. Some of the material dates from the years after Steer’s death, but there are original letters, photographs and ephemera.

Archive code: (CI/PWS)

Percy Moore Turner

Percy Moore Turner Turner was Samuel Courtauld’s picture dealer. The collection includes files on various artists, and a large quantity of fragile newspaper cuttings relating to the art world, and/or Turner himself. 

There is a general finding aid for this collection but it has not yet been sorted or listed to any great degree.

Philip Webb Correspondence

A small collection comprised of correspondence with Giacomo Boni and George Wardle, although there are letters to and from one or two other people. There is also a small quantity of miscellaneous material.

There is a general finding aid for this collection but it has not yet been sorted or listed to any great degree.

Johannes Wilde

Wilde’s lectures on Michelangelo and Venetian painting, given in England after the War. The texts of his two main lecture series have now been published in “Michelangelo” (1978) and “Venetian Painters: Bellini to Titian” (1974). Further material includes lectures given in Vienna in the 1930’s, and correspondence with various people including A.E. Popham, dating from 1941 (when Wilde was in a Canadian internment camp) until the mid-1940’s (after his return to England).

Archive code: (CI/JW)

Sales Catalogues 1700-1825

A combination of original and photographic copies of auction catalogues. There is no list per se for these catalogues, but those held in the Institute are recorded in “Répertoire des catalogues de ventes publiques…1600 – 1925” by F. Lugt (1938 – 1987. 4 vols) [Book Library location : Z 8620 LUG] and available electronically through the Book Library’s Electronic Resources.

Art Related Newspaper Cuttings

Scrapbooks containing cuttings, some of which date back to the last part of the Eighteenth century. These scrapbooks are in a very poor state of preservation.

Paul Levi

A collection of letters from Johannes and Julia Wilde during the period they were interned and imprisoned by the British and Canadian authorities. The letters were gifted to The Courtauld by the son of the picture frame maker Paul Levi (whose family were also forced to leave Nazi-controlled Germany) and Paula Fuchs.

Consulting Special Collections Material

Readers are asked to take great care when handling items from the Special Collections as items are often in a fragile condition. All material must be consulted at the special collections table by the issue desk. Book rests are available in the Library and readers should only use pencil when making notes. Photographing from Special Collections material (without using a flash) is permitted for private research and study. Photocopying may be permitted on the advice of the librarian, depending on the age, condition and size of the item.


We permit photographs to be taken of material in the archives and special collections only for private study. The Courtauld Institute of Art holds the copyright of the Anthony Blunt material held in the archives and we are able to grant permission for use in publication. However, that is the only copyright we hold and cannot, therefore, authorize publication of images taken from our archives or collections. We do not trace copyright for researchers. Publishers will expect authors to obtain copyright permission to publish and the responsibility to provide evidence of having obtained that permission lies with the author. It is also the author’s responsibility to obtain publication-quality images. We do not provide scans or transparencies.

The copyright holder determines how images are credited in publications. If you wish to acknowledge in a note that the material is held at The Courtauld Institute of Art, please use the following pattern Collection reference number, Book Library, The Courtauld Institute of Art, for example CIA/AFB/2/3, Book Library, The Courtauld Institute of Art.


Art historians are accustomed to provenance research when it comes to works of art, but the custodial history of books is also a growth area of interest. Researchers look at the books in an historical figure’s library to see how ideas were transmitted, patterns of ownership and readership, as well as how owners engaged with their books.

CABS contains the bequests described above, but within those bequests there are often books that had interesting lives even before they ended up on our donors’ shelves. There are a number of ways that we can trace some of our books’ histories.