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Print room

Print room

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A print room is either a room or industrial building where printing
Printing is a process for reproducing text and image, typically with ink on paper using a printing press. It is often carried out as a large-scale industrial process, and is an essential part of publishing and transaction printing....

 takes place, or a room in an art gallery
Art gallery
An art gallery or art museum is a building or space for the exhibition of art, usually visual art.Museums can be public or private, but what distinguishes a museum is the ownership of a collection...

 or museum
A museum is an institution that cares for a collection of artifacts and other objects of scientific, artistic, cultural, or historical importance and makes them available for public viewing through exhibits that may be permanent or temporary. Most large museums are located in major cities...

, where a collection of old master
Old master print
An old master print is a work of art produced by a printing process within the Western tradition . A date of about 1830 is usually taken as marking the end of the period whose prints are covered by this term. The main techniques concerned are woodcut, engraving and etching, although there are...

 and modern prints, usually together with drawing
Drawing is a form of visual art that makes use of any number of drawing instruments to mark a two-dimensional medium. Common instruments include graphite pencils, pen and ink, inked brushes, wax color pencils, crayons, charcoal, chalk, pastels, markers, styluses, and various metals .An artist who...

s, watercolours and photograph
A photograph is an image created by light falling on a light-sensitive surface, usually photographic film or an electronic imager such as a CCD or a CMOS chip. Most photographs are created using a camera, which uses a lens to focus the scene's visible wavelengths of light into a reproduction of...

s, are held and viewed. The latter meaning is the subject of this article. A further meaning is a room decorated by pasting prints onto the wall in a quasi-collage
A collage is a work of formal art, primarily in the visual arts, made from an assemblage of different forms, thus creating a new whole....

 style to form a sort of wallpaper
Wallpaper is a kind of material used to cover and decorate the interior walls of homes, offices, and other buildings; it is one aspect of interior decoration. It is usually sold in rolls and is put onto a wall using wallpaper paste...

, an 18th century fashion, of which several examples survive.

What a print room looks like

Since for conservation reasons works on paper cannot be permanently displayed (light, temperature and humidity conditions leave them vulnerable to damage, limiting the hang to no more than 6 months), they are kept in inert, acid-free boxes, albums or portfolios behind closed doors. Where possible, they are mounted on archivally safe supports. Storage may be in the same room as the viewing is done (the 'Reading-' or 'Study Room'), but as the largest collections have well over a million items stores are often located 'behind the scenes', along with the curator
A curator is a manager or overseer. Traditionally, a curator or keeper of a cultural heritage institution is a content specialist responsible for an institution's collections and involved with the interpretation of heritage material...

s' offices. Typically, the visitor sits at a desk equipped with a stand or easel, and the material requested is brought out for them by specialist curators, who are happy to offer further information about works and artists. Visitors are often able to compare a selection of works by different artists, aiding connoisseurial study.

How to visit

Most national collections can be seen by the public more easily than is often realised. Usually, visitors of all sorts, whether researchers or not, are entitled to view works on paper not on display in the galleries, which will form the great majority of an institution's collection, thereby making print rooms an essential resource for enabling our understanding and appreciation of works on paper - in particular, how artists conceive of finished paintings through preparatory studies, and how printmaking traditions and techniques have evolved over the centuries. On a national level, print rooms tend to differ, each having their own specialism, however collections often overlap in content.

There are links to lists of print rooms at the end of the article; most lead to the gallery's or museum's web-pages, which explain visiting arrangements. In many cases appointments need to be made in advance, and proof of identity should usually be provided. While it is helpful to outline what you would like to see (including artists' names and catalogue numbers, which may be available online or in books), visitors are also usually welcome to discuss their needs more casually by phoning or emailing in advance of their appointment. It is important to remember that not all material will be available to view, depending on current loans and exhibitions commitments and the condition of works. Some especially fragile or valuable items may not normally be available for viewing.

Within the print room setting rules and regulations will vary from institution to institution. Some print rooms may allow visitors to photograph works (without a flash), while others may permit sketching. Though the V&A's Prints and Drawings Study Room allows photography, Tate Britain's Prints and Drawings Rooms do not - however at Tate visitors are allowed to sketch and paint in watercolour (with appropriate precautions).

Print Rooms need not be 'passive' spaces - though they are places for study (perhaps suggestive of quiet contemplation), they are also geared towards fostering creative engagement in diverse audiences. For instance, several internationally renowned print rooms lead, or contribute to, a range of public educational programmes, including talks, tours and study days for groups. In particular, university print rooms, including those of the Yale University Art Gallery
Yale University Art Gallery
The Yale University Art Gallery houses a significant and encyclopedic collection of art in several buildings on the campus of Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. Although it embraces all cultures and periods, the Gallery possesses especially renowned collections of early Italian painting,...

, are regularly set aside for art historical lectures.

Often not in the expected museum

Because of the historical development of museums, and also funding, prints and drawings are sometimes associated with library
In a traditional sense, a library is a large collection of books, and can refer to the place in which the collection is housed. Today, the term can refer to any collection, including digital sources, resources, and services...

 collections rather than collections of paintings. For example in Paris the main print (but not drawings) collection is in the Bibliotheque Nationale de France
Bibliothèque nationale de France
The is the National Library of France, located in Paris. It is intended to be the repository of all that is published in France. The current president of the library is Bruno Racine.-History:...

, not the Louvre
The Musée du Louvre – in English, the Louvre Museum or simply the Louvre – is one of the world's largest museums, the most visited art museum in the world and a historic monument. A central landmark of Paris, it is located on the Right Bank of the Seine in the 1st arrondissement...

. In New York and Washington, both the main art museums (Metropolitan Museum of Art
Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Metropolitan Museum of Art is a renowned art museum in New York City. Its permanent collection contains more than two million works, divided into nineteen curatorial departments. The main building, located on the eastern edge of Central Park along Manhattan's Museum Mile, is one of the...

 and National Gallery of Art Washington) and the libraries (New York Public Library
New York Public Library
The New York Public Library is the largest public library in North America and is one of the United States' most significant research libraries...

 and Library of Congress
Library of Congress
The Library of Congress is the research library of the United States Congress, de facto national library of the United States, and the oldest federal cultural institution in the United States. Located in three buildings in Washington, D.C., it is the largest library in the world by shelf space and...

) all have important, though very different, collections. Sometimes, material from non-Western traditions - in particular, Asian material, including Japanese prints - may or may not be held in the same department, or the same institution.

In the US public libraries are officially more accessible than art museum print rooms, which are often privately funded and only open to academic researchers. But most public libraries with prints and drawings collections tend to house these in discrete rooms, where they are tended to by specialist works on paper curators (see, for example, the Art and Architecture Room and Prints and Photographs Room of New York Public Library
New York Public Library
The New York Public Library is the largest public library in North America and is one of the United States' most significant research libraries...


In the UK national collections of art on paper are, in the main, publicly funded and thus widely accessible in gallery and museum print rooms; they rarely form part of library holdings. The UK's main collection of Western prints and drawings is held in the British Museum
British Museum
The British Museum is a museum of human history and culture in London. Its collections, which number more than seven million objects, are amongst the largest and most comprehensive in the world and originate from all continents, illustrating and documenting the story of human culture from its...

 and includes fine examples by the Old Masters. The National Gallery holds no works on paper; only paintings and sculptures of the European tradition. Originally known as the national gallery of British art, Tate Britain
Tate Britain
Tate Britain is an art gallery situated on Millbank in London, and part of the Tate gallery network in Britain, with Tate Modern, Tate Liverpool and Tate St Ives. It is the oldest gallery in the network, opening in 1897. It houses a substantial collection of the works of J. M. W. Turner.-History:It...

 holds British prints and drawings, which include the world's largest collection of watercolours, sketches and engravings by JMW Turner, historic works on paper from the late 18th and 19th centuries, and modern and contemporary British and International prints. The Victoria and Albert Museum
Victoria and Albert Museum
The Victoria and Albert Museum , set in the Brompton district of The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, London, England, is the world's largest museum of decorative arts and design, housing a permanent collection of over 4.5 million objects...

's works on paper collection has a particularly broad remit, encompassing works of fine and applied art (including posters) as well as ephemera.

When the British Museum's main collection and library collection separated in 1997, evinced by the establishment of the British Library
British Library
The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom, and is the world's largest library in terms of total number of items. The library is a major research library, holding over 150 million items from every country in the world, in virtually all known languages and in many formats,...

 (on separate premises in St Pancras), art on paper remained within the British Museum's Department of Prints and Drawings, with, for example, the exception of the library's East India Company collection which largely comprises maps and topographical drawings, now held within the Asia, Pacific and Africa Department of the British Library.

When, conversely, the Victoria and Albert Museum united its art and library collections, with the establishment of the Word and Image division, the Prints and Drawings Study Rooms and the National Art Library, however, remained discrete entities, each with their own specialist staff (with different areas of academic and professional training) and facilities and services catered to the public's and collections' needs.

One of the relatively few print rooms to exist as a separate institution (rather than as part of a larger museum or library), the Albertina (Vienna) is by general consent the world's greatest collection of Western art on paper. The Berlin Kupferstichkabinett
Kupferstichkabinett Berlin
The Kupferstichkabinett, or Museum of Prints and Drawings, is a prints museum in Berlin, Germany. It is part of the Berlin State Museums, and is located in the Kulturforum on Potsdamer Platz...

 at Kulturforum
The Kulturforum is a collection of cultural buildings in Berlin, Germany. It was built up in the 1950s and 60s at the edge of West Berlin, after most of the once unified city's cultural assets had been lost behind the Berlin Wall...

 is, similarly, a major museum with an exclusive focus on prints and drawings. (The list of museums with major collections of European prints and drawings has some very incomplete figures on the holdings of major collections.)

Print rooms open to the general public

Print rooms with restricted access

See also