An example from Yinka Shonibare's Cowboy Angel series of colour woodcuts and collages bought from Alan Cristea Gallery and featured in the British Museum exhibition.

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The British Museum in London has one of the world’s greatest collections of works on paper.

Comprising around 50,000 drawings and over 2m prints, it charts the development of graphic art in Europe from the 1400s to the present day and contains works from all regions of the globe.

While it contains works by many of the most famous names in art history who worked on paper (think Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Dürer, Hogarth, Goya and Picasso), the collection overseen by the museum’s Department of Prints and Drawings has never stood still.

Every year it makes acquisitions to expand its scope and depth in terms of adding pieces that relate to or provide further insight into its existing material in some way.

In 2001 the British Museum received a grant from the Rootstein Hopkins Foundation to purchase works on paper by artists based in Britain. Founded by theatre and retail prop designers Adel Rootstein (1930-92) and Richard Hopkins (1927-2000), the foundation has helped the museum acquire 300 works so far with a particular focus on living artists and designers.

An exhibition running this summer at the museum showcases around 100 highlights from this group. It aims to demonstrate the range and diversity of the works acquired, which include prints by David Hockney, Michael Craig- Martin, Cornelia Parker and Yinka Shonibare as well as drawings by Richard Deacon, Celia Paul and Soheila Sokhanvari.

The show is titled Contemporary collecting: David Hockney to Cornelia Parker and runs until September 29. All the works have been acquired in the last two decades and many are going on public display at the museum for the first time.

Curator of Modern and Contemporary Graphic Art at the British Museum Catherine Daunt said: “We are privileged to hold one of the best works on paper collections in the world. Contemporary prints and drawings have been a major focus of the British Museum’s collecting since the 1970s, and the museum now holds a rich and diverse collection which we regularly rotate in our galleries. David Hockney to Cornelia Parker provides a snapshot of contemporary art in the UK acquired by the museum over the past 20 years.”

The exhibition is organised by grouping the works by style, period and subject matter. The two artists in the show’s title, David Hockney (b.1937) and Cornelia Parker (b.1956), naturally feature prominently with visually striking examples of their prints on view.

Among the Hockneys is a copy of the The Marriage, an etching and aquatint from 1962. Part of an edition of 75 (plus 16 artist’s proofs), the museum purchased the print for a five-figure sum from London dealer Lyndsey Ingram in 2017.

Showing a seated female figure with a veil and a profile silhouette of standing male figure, the print relates to Hockney’s painting The First Marriage (A Marriage of Styles) which is now in the Tate.

It shows his lover, the artist Jeff Goodman, standing next to an Egyptian sculptural figure in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin. Hockney explained the idea behind it: “Both figures were looking the same way, and it amused me that in my first glimpse of them they looked united.”

Another David Hockney print at the show is Henry Seated with Tulips from 1976, a depiction of Henry Geldzahler, a friend of Hockney and the first curator of 20th century art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

The lithograph was printed in five colours – grey, beige and three blacks – with Hockney working on two stones and three aluminium plates with crayon and tusche. From an edition of 90 (plus 51 proofs), the British Museum’s copy was purchased from dealer Sims Reed in 2016.

Glass works


Articles of Glass from Cornelia Parker’s One Day This Glass Will Break series, a print featured in the British Museum exhibition which was purchased from Alan Cristea Gallery.

An example from Cornelia Parker’s (b.1956) One Day This Glass Will Break series is also featured in the show.

A large-scale photogravure etching showing stacked glasses about to tumble, the print is titled Articles of Glass and comes from an edition of 15 published by Alan Cristea Gallery in 2015.

The British Museum purchased the work from the London dealer itself. Measuring 2ft 7in x 22in (80 x 56cm), it reflects the artist’s interest in materials like antique silver and glass and demonstrates her use of photographic negatives to reflect on layers of time and the fragility of existence.

Also purchased by the museum from Alan Cristea Gallery were a set of colour woodcuts by Yinka Shonibare (b.1962) from his Cowboy Angel series. The works from 2017 combine imagery of angels, representations of African masks, cowboy tropes of the American West, and the artist’s signature waxprint fabrics.

Shonibare was born in Britain but grew up in Nigeria before returning to London to study art. His work is concerned with cultural identity, colonialism and post-colonialism in a globalised world.


An example from Yinka Shonibare's Cowboy Angel series of colour woodcuts and collages bought from Alan Cristea Gallery and featured in the British Museum exhibition.

They are among the works at the exhibition that shows contemporary artists engaging with political and social issues. Other works in this category are Sarah Ball’s anonymous portraits of interned people and Joy Gerrard’s ink drawing depicting a vigil and protest following the murder of Sarah Everard in London in 2021.

The exhibition will also include prints and drawings from other wellknown artists such as Damien Hirst, John Hoyland, Ann-Marie James, Julian Opie and Rachel Whiteread.

‘Contemporary collecting: David Hockney to Cornelia Parker’ runs in Room 90 at the British Museum until September 29.