The British Museum’s Department of Prints and Drawings contains the national collection of Western prints and drawings, in the same way as the National Gallery and Tate hold the national collection of paintings. It is one of the top three collections of its kind in the world. There are approximately 50,000 drawings and over two million prints dating from the beginning of the fifteenth century up to the present day.
The collection covers the history of drawing and printmaking as fine arts, with large holdings of the works of important artists such as Dürer, Michelangelo, Raphael, Rembrandt and Goya. There are also large documentary collections of historical, satirical and topographical prints, as well as important collections of printed ephemera, such as trade and visiting cards, fans and playing cards.
The department also has the most extensive reference library in the United Kingdom relating to the history of prints and drawings, comprising about 50,000 books, periodicals and sale catalogues. There is a small collection of illustrated books, but the national collection of these is in the British Library. Oriental drawings and prints are kept in the Department of Asia.
The collection is available to the public through the Study Room and through a programme of temporary exhibitions which are usually shown in Room 90.