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Our history

Mary Evans Picture Library began life in 1964, and its core philosophy has remained unchanged for nearly 60 years: to make available and accessible all the wonderful images created for people to enjoy over the centuries which were originally published in books, on posters, in advertisements, or as prints.

You can visit galleries and exhibitions to see art and illustration from the past, but these tend to be dominated by great works of fine art. Mary Evans Picture Library provides a unique space through which people the world over can enjoy all the 'ordinary' images which display such skill and creativity on the part of the artist, and the style, medium and texture of which defined the era in which they were created.

By making these images available to publishers, broadcasters and designers today, we hope to provide an insight into the past for anyone who comes across any of our pictures reproduced in a contemporary context.

In October 1964, in the Evans' small Blackheath home, Mary clambered onto a stool to reach the top shelf of a clothes cupboard in order to retrieve an engraving for the BBC. By this time, every last corner of their home was stuffed full of the antiquarian books, prints and ephemera that were the personal passion of Mary and her husband Hilary, and became the foundation of Mary Evans Picture Library.

The library grew rapidly throughout the 1960s and 1970s. 1975 was a key year, when Hilary and Mary were founder members of both the British Association of Picture Libraries and Agencies (BAPLA), the industry's trade organisation, and the Picture Research Association. In the same year they published the first edition of The Picture Researcher's Handbook, which ran to eight editions.

Since then, the Library has gone from strength to strength. Still in Blackheath, it currently employs 10 people and uses state-of-the-art technology to provide clients with a full online service. You can still pick up the phone, however, and talk to an experienced and knowledgeable picture researcher.

In 2013, we were pleased to welcome Ardea Picture Library to the Mary Evans stable and Ardea now shares our historic building, All Saints Parish Hall, in Blackheath, South-East London, which has been our home for more than three decades.

Mary died in 2010 and Hilary a year later, when ownership passed to their daughter Valentine, who still maintains a keen interest in all that happens here.

58 years since it was founded, and despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the library continues to thrive, underpinned by a vast archive of historical imagery collected by Mary and Hilary over the years, and now supplemented by over 500 contributor collections, all distributed through an international agent network more than a hundred strong. In recent years, we have also become one of the leading independent sources of cinema images.

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