The collection contains around 3,000 works and was put together by Paul Oppe, a distinguished scholar and collector, during the first half of this century. Its greatest strength is in late 18th-century landscape watercolours and drawings, which reflect the "Golden Age" of British watercolours.
Many are views of Italy and Switzerland produced in the era of the "grand tour" by artists including Richard Wilson, Francis Towne, JR Cozens and John "Warwick" Smith.
The Tate will show 100 works from the collection in September 1997 and plans eventually to increase the opening hours of its Study Room to five days a week to make the collection accessible to the public.
Nicholas Serota, director of the Tate, said yesterday: "There has never been anything on the scale of this acquisition. In terms of size, the Oppe Collection consists of 3,000 works, which is unparalleled.
"It has been made possible only by the existence of Lottery funds. This is precisely the kind of collection which, had it come on to the market five years ago, would have been broken up and sold in separate pieces.
"We have acquired a group of works for the nation for a very good figure. It is money well spent."
Parts of the collection will go on display in four venues around Britain in the next few years, including Cambridge, Edinburgh and Cardiff.
Paul Oppe died in 1957 and his world-famous collection of watercolours, drawings, oil sketches and prints has been held privately until now.
Its acquisition was arranged through a special agreement negotiated through Sotheby's, and was made possible with a Heritage Lottery Fund grant of pounds 3,776,000 and pounds 100,000 from the National Art Collections Fund. A further lottery grant of pounds 250,000 will support the collection's conservation, cataloguing and the cost of mount- ing temporary exhibitions of highlights of the collection around the UK.
The Tate's director, Nicholas Serota, also announced a gift by Janet Wolfson de Botton of 56 works by contemporary European and American artists, including Andy Warhol's 1986 Self-Portrait and Gilbert and George's Red Morning Trouble.
The Tate has galleries in London, Liverpool and St Ives, Cornwall.Reuse content