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Watercolor and gouache on paper by Ithell Colquhoun (1906–1988), from the uncatalogued archive transferred to Tate from the National Trust. Courtesy of Tate.

Tate Acquires Archive of British Surrealist Ithell Colquhoun

A collection of approximately five thousand sketches, drawings, and paintings by British artist Ithell Colquhoun has been gifted to the Tate by the National Trust. The uncatalogued archive spans the artist’s career from the 1930s to the 1980s and consists of architectural drawings, still lifes, portraits, and abstract and Surrealist paintings, as well as a complete record of her experiments with Surrealist automatism—a method of artmaking in which the artist suppresses conscious control over the making process. The works will join the Tate’s holdings of occult papers that Colquhoun gave to the institution in 1989.

Born in 1988, Colquhoun was a painter, writer, and poet. She studied art at the Cheltenham Art School and the Slade School of Fine Art. In 1936, she held her first solo exhibition at the Cheltenham Art Gallery and began exhibiting regularly in London. She joined the British Surrealist Group in 1939. Over the years, the occult became one of her primary interests, which led to her expulsion from the group. Her work was featured in several Surrealist retrospectives in the 1970s and 1980s.

Ithell Colquhoun was one of the key figures of British surrealism and we are delighted that the National Trust has transferred the remaining archive and other works by Colquhoun to Tate,” said Ann Gallagher, director of the Tate’s collection of British art. “We are extremely grateful that the integrity of the archives can be preserved at Tate in this way and be made available to scholars and for display to the public.”

Items from the collection will be reviewed by conservators and sorted by the Tate’s archivists so that they can be made available to researchers at the Hyman Kreitman Reading Rooms at Tate Britain later this year.

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