Recent acquisitions:
Arcimboldo to Kitaj

30 May – 1 September 2013
Free, Room 90

This exhibition gives an extraordinary glimpse into the breadth of the 11,000 prints and drawings acquired by the British Museum over the past five years.

The 130 pieces on display show how the Museum’s collection of graphic works has grown in recent years through generous gifts and bequests. The collection’s unique breadth and depth is displayed in three distinct sections that span continents and centuries – from Italian artist Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1527–1593) to challenging American painter and printmaker R.B. Kitaj (1932–2007) and includes contemporary pieces such as Grayson Perry’s Pilgrimage to the British Museum which he drew for his critically acclaimed exhibition Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman at the British Museum, October 2011 – February 2012.

One third of the exhibition is dedicated to the work of Kitaj whose extraordinarily generous gift of 293 prints and 18 drawings were presented to the British Museum shortly before his death in 2007. This display of 49 pieces is the first presentation of his prints in London for two decades and offers a timely opportunity to reassess this artist’s graphic output. His gift contained the major suites of prints from the 1960s and 1970s – including the magisterial In our Time series, as well as rarely seen prints such as Yaller Bird and the Red Dancer of Moscow.

Kitaj worked in London for almost 40 years and it was here he developed his early style and influenced many of his close circle of friends including David Hockney, who he met at the Royal College of Art and Lucian Freud and Frank Auerbach, all of whom he would include in his 1976 exhibition The Human Clay. This was a daring celebration of figurative art and led Kitaj to reject his earlier body of prints and to concentrate on drawing the human form. However he still produced graphic work mostly as lithographic prints which captured the quality of his drawn work. Kitaj was one of the major artists of the twentieth century, and had always wanted his prints to reside alongside the Old Masters in the British Museum. Kitaj’s offer of the gift was made shortly before his death in 2007, making the Museum’s holdings of the artist’s works on paper the most comprehensive in Europe.

Another third of the exhibition is decicated to modern Italian graphic works – including Gastone Novelli’s drawing from 1960: Untitled (Homage to Samuel Beckett). The remaining third shows a range of works from the 16th to the 21st centuries – from devotional prints to satires. Among these are an engraving of 1577 by Johannes van Doetecum, illustrating popular proverbs, a heartbreaking etching by Francisco de Goya entitled El amor y la muerte (Love and death), and two Picasso linocuts from the 1960s.

The Museum’s acquisitions budget has been supplemented by the generosity of many individuals and organisations – including the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the Art Fund, the British Museum Friends, the Friends of Prints and Drawings, the Ottley Group, and the Vollard Group. Four important works were allocated to the Museum by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax. The exhibition is a wonderful opportunity to see a fascinating cross-section of recent acquisitions by the Department of Prints and Drawings – made possible by the ongoing support of a broad range of patrons and benefactors.

Exhibition installation supported by the PF Charitable Trust

RB Kitaj, Yaller Bird, 1964, Screenprint. R.B.Kitaj Estate, courtesy Marlborough Fine Art.

Notes to editors

Free, Room 90. Opening hours 10.00–17.30 Saturday to Thursday and 10.00–20.30 Fridays.

A full public programme accompanies the exhibition. More information is available from the press office.

An accompanying publication is published by British Museum Press: Kitaj Prints: A Catalogue Raisonné, by Jennifer Ramkalawon. A magnificent illustrated book that explores the range of graphic works by R.B. Kitaj, one of the most thought-provoking and controversial artists of the second half of the twentieth century. Hardback, £40.

National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF)

The National Heritage Memorial Fund was set up in 1980 to save the most outstanding parts of our national heritage, in memory of those who have given their lives for the UK. It will receive £20m Government grant in aid between 2011-15 allowing for an annual budget of £4m-£5m.

A diverse range of over 1,200 iconic objects and places have been safeguarded by the NHMF to the tune of over £300 million. These include:

  • The Coenwulf Coin
  • The Staffordshire Hoard, the largest Anglo-Saxon hoard to unearthed
  • The Mary Rose
  • The Flying Scotsman
  • HMS Caroline, the last surviving First World War ship
  • The personal archive of First World War soldier and poet, Siegfried Sassoon
  • James Guthrie’s iconic painting, In the Orchard
  • William Dyce’s famous painting Welsh Landscape with Two Women Knitting
  • The archive of the Viscounts Melville
  • The last surviving World War II motorboats, HSL 102 and MGB 81
  • The Ward Estate within Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park

The Art Fund

The Art Fund is the national fundraising charity, helping museums to buy and show great art for everyone.

Over the past 5 years we’ve given £24m to help over 200 museums and galleries acquire works of art for their collections, from ancient sculpture and treasure hoards to Old Master paintings and contemporary commissions. We also support a range of programmes which promote museums and their collections to wider audiences, including the national tour of the ARTIST ROOMS collection, the Art Fund Prize which rewards and celebrates Museum of the Year, and our Art Guide, a pioneering smartphone app offering the most comprehensive guide to seeing art across the UK.

We are independently funded, the majority of our income coming from 95,000 members who, through the National Art Pass, enjoy free entry to over 220 hundred museums, galleries and historic houses across the UK, as well as 50% off entry to major exhibitions.

Find out more about the Art Fund and the National Art Pass at

The press office can be reached on 020 7225 4888 or

The Art of Influence: Asian Propaganda
30 May – 1 September 2013
Free, Room 91

This exhibition explores both state-sponsored, or ‘top-down’ propaganda, and bottom-up propaganda in a number of Asian countries, including China, India, Japan, Korea and Vietnam, during the tumultuous years from 1900 to 1976. The British Museum has extraordinarily rich collections of this material - much of which has been recently acquired - many items within this exhibition have never been displayed or published before. This exhibition presents a wide range of propaganda formats and styles from the beginning of the 20th century, including cartoons, prints and posters.

Follow updates on the exhibition via the Museum’s Twitter account @britishmuseum

For further information

Please contact the Press Office on 020 7323 8583 / 8394 or

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For public information please print or 020 7323 8181