In the European & American prints, drawings and illustrated books collections, the National Gallery of Australia acquires graphic art from the late 18th century onwards. The collections encompass the history of the major exponents, schools and movements over two centuries of Western Art, with a focus on the latter part of the 19th century to the present day.
In the field of prints the emphasis has been on European and America editions, with significant holdings of French posters and European Modernism, as well as a rich holdings of post war American works, notably the Tyler collection of editioned prints and proofs (along with film, sound and photography). Where printmaking has been an important influence or has developed as a distinct art form, for example in the field of Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock prints, this aspect of printmaking is also represented.
The drawing collection spans the latter part of the 19th century to the contemporary period. It includes finished drawings by major artists, as well as preliminary studies that relate to other to paintings, sculptures and prints held at the Gallery.
In the field of illustrated books the collection emphasizes the tradition of the French de luxe book by important artists, with special attention to fine printing and special papers and, wherever possible, those with suites or loose leaves of original prints. Early Modernism is represented by key German Expressionist, Surrealist, Dada and Cubist publications. The private-press movement, beginning in the 19th century with publications by William Morris and the Kelmscott Press, also forms a component of the illustrated book collection.
These collections include works of art with their own intrinsic value, as well as complementing and supplementing the International and Asian Art collections of paintings, sculptures and decorative arts, while providing some context for aspects of Australian art.