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Courtauld Image Libraries

Witt Library

Courtauld Image Libraries – Closed

The Courtauld’s image libraries at Somerset House are currently closed. The Courtauld is exploring how we can provide access to these collections while maintaining the safety of our visitors, students and staff. We do not anticipate reopening until Autumn 2020. If the present guidelines remain in place when we reopen, users will only be able to view the collections by appointment. Users will not be able to browse the collections and will need to request the materials they wish to see in advance. We will share more information about our reopening plans through our web pages as soon as possible.

Library staff have no access to the image libraries at this time but will do our best to answer enquiries sent to witt.conway@courtauld.ac.uk

Opening times: Closed until further notice

The Witt and Conway Libraries are located at our Somerset House campus

Finding the image libraries during Courtauld Connects

Please note that the entrance to the Institute has moved. Walking under the canopy leading from the Strand, passing the old Institute entrance on your left, turn left towards the King’s College Campus. Enter the last door on your left and reception staff will direct you to down to the Witt and Conway Libraries.

The Witt Library is a collection of reproductions of paintings, drawings and prints, of western art, covering the period 1200 to the present day. Original photographs and cuttings from published material are filed on open access shelves, organised alphabetically by artist within ‘national schools’. All major artists are represented in depth and one of the strengths of the library is its coverage of lesser-known artists, unparalleled elsewhere. The collection contains over two million reproductions of works by 70,000 artists.

The Witt Library is an essential resource for the serious study of art history and an invaluable source for anyone seeking illustrative material for the study of a whole range of subjects. To make it available to a wider range of people, an extensive digitisation project is now underway to put the entire Witt Library collection online, as high-resolution images.

This will not only mean that researchers no longer need to visit Somerset House during fixed hours to access the Library, but will also make it easier to find the resources they need.

A pilot project, supported generously by a private benefactor and led by The Courtauld’s Digital Media Department, has already allowed us to digitise over 50% of the British School, a selection of over 260,000 mounted images covering artists born between 1200 and 1799. Although not yet public, this test site has helped us gain feedback from a range of Witt users during five open consultation sessions in 2019, as well as work through many of the complex issues involved in the online publishing of a database of this size.

Another generous private bequest is now enabling most of the remaining two million images to be digitised. The process will take 12 to 14 months, and the collection will be digitised in order of popularity. Further information on this process will be made available once timings and methodology has been agreed.

Our technique for digitising the Witt honours in every way possible the form and integrity of the physical collection. Each mount is given a unique identification accession number, photographed in high resolution and cropped a few millimetres outside its edge to ensure no information is lost. Backs of mounts are always included if they carry any inscriptions or text. The collection will be presented online in a browsable structure that resembles exactly the schools, boxes and folders as found on the shelves. It is further intended that the technology being used will have added benefits – for example, comparisons formerly made from image-by-image spreads across a tabletop will be possible on-screen.

This project will not only secure the long term preservation of the Witt but allow it to resume its place as a world-class scholarly resource whilst reaching new national and international audiences beyond the formal sphere of academic art historical research.

 At the same time, an innovative volunteer programme, part funded by the National Heritage Lottery Fund and managed by The Courtauld’s Digital Media department, is supporting the digitisation of the Conway Library – find out more about this programme and read our blog.

Access and Opening Times

Access to the Conway and Witt Libraries is by reader’s card, arranged on arrival. Cards are available at £5.00 for six months (£3.50 for Courtauld alumni and Friends of The Courtauld), £3.00 for one month, or £2.00 for one day or one single visit. Please note that fees are payable in cash only.

Members of The Courtauld’s Samuel Courtauld Society (including Associates, Patrons and Director’s Circle members) receive complimentary entry and simply use their regular membership cards to gain access.

The Witt Library is open Monday to Friday from 13:00 to 17:30 (last admission 17:00). The Witt Library is at the Institute’s Somerset House campus: Somerset House, the Strand, London WC2R 0RN.


Library Enquiries

+44 (0)20 3947 7633

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