Thursday, March 03, 2016

"Your Paintings" moves to Art UK

Once upon a time there was an initiative called Your Paintings.
  • The aim was to digitise and provide a comprehensive online catalogue of all the oil paintings in public ownership in the UK.
  • As yet it does not provide any record of the watercolours, sculpture, drawing and prints also held by public collections - more's the pity.
  • For some reason the website for 'Your Paintings' was hosted by the BBC and I never quite understood the rationale for this.

 Your Paintings has now been replaced by "Art UK" (
(I can only assume their marketing 'bright spark' forgot to look at the phrase on Google first and didn't spot the competition for this keyword phrase!)

Art UK is the successor to Your Paintings. It is a joint initiative between the Public Catalogue Foundation (now known as Art UK), 3,000 museums and other art collections, and the BBC.
Wikipedia explains the history - although I think the first sentence is very confusing.

So basically, the initiative was run by the Public Catalogue Foundation - who also published the actual catalogues per county or institution - and now that organisation is known as Art UK. On the new site you can.
Interestingly a lot of the people who have articles written about this new website have read the press release and interviewed key bods - but haven't actually tried it out.

How do I know this? Well I've tried it and it's not without its problems.

I'm actually very surprised at some of the practical problems. If I'd been project managing this initiative there is no way this would have gone live without having some quite major glitches sorted eg
  • Once you've chosen a selection, it's very difficult to change it. So if you initially pressed museum and gallery as the type of place you wanted to review, you can't get rid of that selection if you then decide you'd much rather look at was available in another type of venue.
  • It's also quite difficult to backtrack out of a filter selection. I ended up doing a lot of pressing of the "back" key! So design and navigability could be improved.
What this basically means you've always got to hit the top level menu and start again rather than refining filters as you go. That's poor functionality in my book.

  • it apparently excludes some notable museums and galleries people might think are in public ownership - like the Ashmolean Museum at the University of Oxford - which you won't find in the listing of museums and galleries in the South East until you realise that it's "The Ashmolean Museum"
  • they've not updated images for those which have recently come out of copyright constraint.
Still Life of Asparagus
Adriaen Coorte (c.1660–after 1707)
The Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology
    I have to say having delved a little in places known to me (like the local Town Hall of the place where I used to live as a child) there are some absolute rubbish pieces of no quality included in the collection!

    There are however very many wonderful pieces of art - like Adriaen Coorte's wonderful painting "Still Life of Asparagus". The website also gives an explanation for paintings - where one is known - plus refers you to the website of the host for more information if it's online
    Typically, the artist has isolated his motif and painted it with a refined touch and a subtle combination of soft green and purple. This was one of the artist's favourite themes. It appears in twelve known paintings, mostly in combination with other fruit. Only two of the series show the bundle of asparagus isolated on a ledge as here: one in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, dated 1697, the other in the Fitzwilliam, Cambridge, dated 1703.Re. Coorte's Asparagus
    Sydney Parkinson (1745–1771)
    Sydney Parkinson (c.1745–1771) (attributed to)
    Natural History Museum
    There are also some not so wonderful paintings which are also very significant. Such as Sydney Parkinson's self portrait held at the Natural History Museum. Parkinson was the artist who accompanied Captain Cook on the expedition which discovered Australia and who recorded all the plants and natural history that they found.

    I think this is a website which is:
    • definitely worth bookmarking
    • definitely worth exploring
    • but take your time - and hope they fix the navigation of the site sooner rather than later.
    My main hope is that they get a move on and start cataloguing all the watercolours very soon!



    1. The service isn't very reliable. I tried searching for a specific painting by Augustus John that appeared on the BBC site using two different browsers and got lots of "no records" results. I can't tell whether the search is just clumsy (although a search for an artist called "John" ought to have produced *something*, or whether the site as a whole just doesn't work that well.

    2. You're being very optimistic if you are searching for an artist called "John"! :) I would have thought the full name would have been a better bet!

      Don't forget though that these are paintings in public ownership - the database does not necessarily contain paintings from every UK artist


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