Bridgeman Images – Art for Arts Sake

by Julian Jackson

Bridgeman Images is one of the world’s foremost picture agencies specializing in fine art. Founded in 1972 by Harriet Bridgeman, it remains a family-based company. Harriet is still fully involved as Chairman, and the current CEO is Victoria Bridgeman. She says the overall mission of the library is to “to be the de-facto arts, culture and historical archive.”

CEO Victoria and Chairman Harriet Bridgeman
CEO Victoria and Chairman Harriet Bridgeman

The original impulse to create it stemmed from Harriet’s need to source images for books she was working on. In those days many museums were not very aware of the publishers need for images, and often if you requested a picture of a painting they would tell you to send along a photographer! Harriet quickly established the company as an important supplier of images from museums and galleries large and small, and private art collections. From the beginning it had an international perspective and Bridgeman Images collaborate with cultural centres all over the world to license artworks. Currently they have 1.1 million images online and are continually expanding their collection, via accessions of digitized material and also prints, transparencies and negatives which lovers of old-style collections will appreciate. Some of this material is in boxes in the CEO’s office and three researchers work full-time on finding material for clients from this analogue archive.

Winter Landscape, 1909 by Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) / Hermitage, St. Petersburg, Russia / Bridgeman Images
Winter Landscape, 1909 by Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) / Hermitage, St. Petersburg, Russia / Bridgeman Images

Their first major acquisition was a French photo archive called Giraudon, which broadened the scope of their material considerably fifteen years ago. Ironically they bought it off Gettyimages during the period Getty were acquiring collections all over the place, as Getty were not able to license its specialised material effectively. Exquisite reproduction and careful captioning and meta-data are a must if fine artworks are to be reproduced, especially in specialist publications, and Bridgeman maintain high standards in this area. Bridgeman passes back fifty percent of the reproduction fee to their partner museums and collections in order to provide vital revenue for conservation and future exhibitions.

Recently they have moved into footage, seeing that as complementary to their stills offerings. As they are major players in the educational market, being able to offer moving pictures to these clients as they move to digital delivery of material, rather than just textbooks, was a valuable addition to their existing collection. Victoria says, “We saw a demand for this, led by technology. It was a logical extension of what we did already. Currently it is a small part of our business, but one which is growing rapidly.”

This year they acquired French photo library Rue des Archives, which gives them another interlocking collection of valuable material, which will be very useful to their existing client base. This major French archival photo library is an exceptional resource with photography ranging from the cave paintings of Lascaux to 21st century Parisian life. It also covers photographs of international figures from the world of film, fashion, art, entertainment, and politics. Their content costs money to acquire and market and they see it as vital to continue to reinvest in their partnerships with the art suppliers to continue to provide high quality material to their clients. Victoria continues, “I think there is a big opportunity for Bridgeman to be a one-stop shop for cultural content.”

Director Alfred Hitchcock with actress Tippi Hedren arriving at Nice airport for Cannes Film festival, 1963. Credit ©Rue des Archives/AGIP/Bridgeman Images
Director Alfred Hitchcock with actress Tippi Hedren arriving at Nice airport for Cannes Film festival, 1963. Credit ©Rue des Archives/AGIP/Bridgeman Images

America is one of their biggest markets, and they have offices in New York and Los Angeles, headed up by Edward Whitley, as well as regularly exhibiting at Visual Connections. Besides their offices in London, Paris and Berlin, other important international markets include India and Japan. In their London headquarters they have Japanese speakers to ensure transactions go smoothly.

The wide variety of their clients has helped them weather the economic turbulence of the past few years. At any one time they will be selling to a wide spectrum of the publishing world, TV companies like the BBC, corporate and advertising agencies and new media so they have a broad base which has helped them move with the times. They may continue to consolidate their position in future by acquiring other libraries and collections as well as expanding their footage business.

juliancoffeshopcuJulian Jackson is a writer with extensive experience of picture research, whose main interests include photography and the environment. His website is He also runs a Picture Research by Distance Learning Course Linked-in profile.

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