The Artists on Film Trust was established in 1997 by filmmakers Hannah Rothschild and Robert McNab (MA 1971) to make available for study archive film of artists in conversation and at work. Although artists have been filmed in increasing numbers for nearly a century, this extensive record is unexplored by art historians and others. Historians of the modern period remain focused on traditional print and paper-based sources and ignore film, which it seems is treated as entertainment rather than as evidence. Filmmakers first pointed their camera at artists at the beginning of the last century, yet in Europe and America their work and that of their successors is largely invisible and forgotten. We still do not know who the first artist to be filmed was.

Many had been filmed already by the 1950s. They included Monet, Degas, Renoir, Rodin, Grosz, Dix, Kandinsky, Braque, Picasso, Leger, Pechstein, Corinth, Matisse, Malevitch, Ernst, Calder, Thomas Moran, Sir Philip de Laszlo, Jacques Villon, Duchamp, Lowry, Moore and many more. The amount of footage shot has grown from a trickle to a flood. Although the Getty Program for Art on Film attempted one once, there is no comprehensive record of this material The Artists on Film Trust has now secured the agreement of the major UK broadcasters and filmmakers, the BBC, LWT, the Arts Council and Channel 4 to make copies of their artist documentaries for study purposes.

The Trust was recently invited by The Prince’s Foundation to curate a series of public screenings of individual documentaries presented by filmmakers and, where possible, by the artist. This series was held in association with the Prince’s Drawing Studio. A second series was held at Hay-on-Wye in May 2003. A further series is scheduled next Spring at the Prince’s Drawing Studio, by which time the Trust hopes to have finalised a similar exchange with the Getty Research Institute.

In its search for a permanent base the Trust is at present in discussion with the London Institute, in particular with St Martin’s and Chelsea College of Art, now part of the newly declared University of the Arts. Public access for study has also been discussed by the Trust with Tate Britain, the National Gallery and the Courtauld. Added to the limitations imposed on such initiatives by copyright regulations, the Trust must also trace prints of early films. The confusion is partly due to the vagaries of the cataloguing systems devised by individual film archives and also to the cost of access (travel, accommodation and viewing). If not used things slip out of sight and are forgotten. The Trust estimates there are at present 1000 hours of significant archive footage around the world. An estimate of significant current "amateur" footage would double the amount.

The Trust now enjoys the support of the Prince of Wales and of British broadcasters Lord Bragg (LWT) and Alan Yentob (BBC). Together with that of the London Institute and of Museums like the National Portrait Gallery and its Director Sandy Nairne, as well as that of Charles Saumarez-Smith at the National Gallery, we now aim to make London the centre for the study of artists on film.

ROBERT MCNAB