Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Your Paintings

Your Paintings" is one of the most remarkable digital art projects I've ever seen online. The aim is to catalogue and display the entire national collection of oil paintings in the UK online on a dedicated website!

Your Paintings - a BBC Online 'Knowledge and Learning' project
with the PCF and participating collections
Your Paintings is a joint initiative between the BBC, the Public Catalogue Foundation (a registered charity) and participating collections and museums from across the UK. 
It's going to be a fantastic learning resource and will be of particular interest to artists and those involved in art education - art students, art teachers and home schoolers.

Importantly, it also extends the concept of what public access to our artistic heritage should be about.

The project focuses on all the oil paintings in public ownership - so my brand new efforts at oil painting won't be making the cut.  However it's not just paintings in art galleries and museums as this video shows.

The paintings are drawn from public collections in every part of the country, big and small, from the most famous to the completely unknown. They include the UK's national museums and galleries, regional collections, the National Trust, as well as the less obvious public collection like those in universities, council buildings, hospitals and fire stations. 

It actually launched while I was away, hence why I'm only writing about it now.  Read on to find out more about

The website

In June, the first phase of the Your Paintings project was published.
  • You can now find the first 64,000 paintings on the BBC's new Your Paintings website - by 15,000 artists from 860 galleries and collections.
  • By the time the project has been completed it will include some 200,000 paintings from around 3,000 collections around the United Kingdom. 
  • so far 54% of the nation's paintings have been photographed by a team of 30 photographers
It's important to realise that all the paintings in the collection are on public display.  In fact that's one of the huge benefits of this resource - we can now see paintings which are NOT on public display or are hidden in the offices of government officials - such as the Hogarth in the YouTube film.

What can you access on the website?

You can
  • search the paintings by artist's name or "tags" which describe what's in the painting (hence the importance of the tagging - see below).  It will suggest names if you only know part of the name.  However it won't suggest names if you get the spelling a bit wrong.
  • however you can look up artists via an alphabetical category - so if you know what the first letter is you can still get there!
  • watch slideshows of the paintings in the collection painted by specific artists
Your Paintings - Vincent Van Gogh's page
Other collections in this region will be joining the site very soon
  • There are various Guided Tours by different people.  Here, for example is Waldemar Januszczak: The Impressionists (at last I get to understand how his name is pronounced!) and James Fox: British Masters - unsurprisingly given the current BBC programmes!
  • click on a painting and it will tell you:
    • the title
    • the artist
    • its dimensions
    • when it was painted
    • where it is now kept - which collection it's in
    • a link to the website of the collection where it is kept (if applicable).
    • how to contact the collection if you want to see it - however they don't tell you whether it's on display or not.

It would be very helpful if the database indicated
  • all those paintings on permanent display, 
  • all those on display - but in areas which cannot be normally be accessed and 
  • all those which are in storage.  
That should save a lot of wasted time for both officials and the public when somebody wants to see a painting.  Perhaps they can invent tags for this? 

Tag the national's paintings

The website where you can create tags to describe the nation's paintings cam be found at (which is a sub-domain of the Public Catalogue Foundation website)

This uses crowd-sourcing technology pioneered by the Astrophysics Department at Oxford University to classify galaxies!

Your Paintings - Tagging Website

You need to register before you can start tagging.  However if you're not sure, you can try tagging first to see whether you fancy having a go at tagging the nation's paintings.  It's very straightforward - except when you get to the abstract paintings!

You can also help by contacting the Your Paintings team if you find any information on this page to be wrongly displayed, factually incorrect or offensive.  (It did occur to me that people might go round tagging the "rude bits" with anglo-saxon terms!)

There's a FAQS page which explains things like "What is tagging?" and a question which I know will be one which you have been wanting to ask!
Actually it is not just oil paintings. We have also included works painted in tempera and acrylic. Tempera is an egg-based pigment that predates oil paints, so many of these paintings are the oldest in the collection. Acrylic is a more modern synthetic paint. Mixed media paintings which includes oil or acrylic have also been included.
Your Paintings focuses on oil painting for two reasons. First, because oil was the preferred medium of most well-known artists for hundreds of years. Secondly, whilst the number of watercolours and drawings in the national collection is in the millions, the size of the oil painting collection is a practical proposition to digitise in its entirety.

In summary - I highly recommend you take a good look at this website and what's available.  I'll be bringing updates as the website is developed and more functionality becomes available.

About the Public Catalogue Foundation
The Public Catalogue Foundation is a registered charity. It was launched in 2003 to create a photographic record of all the oil paintings in public ownership in the United Kingdom. To date its publication focus has been a series of hard copy catalogues. 

About BBC Online
BBC Online is the BBC's portfolio of websites, available at In April 2011, it had 31.7 million unique browsers and was the fourth most popular website in the UK. It is the only UK-owned website in the UK top ten. Your Paintings is part of the Knowledge & Learning Product.

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