BBC and Public Catalogue Foundation launch Your Paintings website

This new initiative from the BBC, the Public catalogue foundation and participating collections and museums from across the UK is not yet finished but it promises to be a fantastic resource for art historians working across a range of topics. The website states that ‘Your Paintings is a website which aims to show the entire UK national collection of oil paintings, the stories behind the paintings, and where to see them for real. It is made up of paintings from thousands of museums and other public institutions around the country.’ Paintings that will be included on the database are any that are owned by state and local authorities as well as those held in charitable trusts for the benefit of the public. It will include the collections of the major national museum collections, such as the National Gallery in London, as well as paintings held by local authorities, hospitals, town halls, public libraries, Bishop’s palaces, and so on. It will also include paintings in the collections held by national organisations including the National Trust, English Heritage, the Government Art Collection and the Arts Council England. So far about 63 000 out of an estimated 200 000 paintings are online. The database can be searched either by artist’s surname or by keyword, which works well but is a little basic, especially for a database that will eventually include over 200 000 items. There is also a list of contributing collections and galleries and details of paintings in those collections that are in the database. Each painting has basic information provided – title, artist and collection – and a link to any further information that may be available on the website of the collection it is from.

The online database will focus on oil painting, but will also include works painted in tempera and acrylic, as well as mixed media works that include acrylic or oil paint. Watercolours are not included for the reason that there are apparently millions of them in public collections and it is therefore impractical to aim to digitise all of them.

There is also a call for people to help with ‘tagging’ and providing further information about paintings on the database, see here. The website states you don’t need to know about art to contribute. This crowd sourcing method of classifying the pictures is certainly a good way of getting people involved and could speed up the process of attaching useful keywords to the pictures, but there is the worry that paintings could end up with unhelpful tags that will clutter searches. It isn’t clear the extent to which these tags will be monitored for usefulness.

The site states that ‘The Public Catalogue Foundation is responsible for seeking permission to show works on the Your Paintings website from the museums and other collections that own the paintings, as well as from the artists and estates where the underlying works are still in copyright.’ It’s not clear how this works but one hopes that perhaps this site could provide a much easier path for art historians who need reproductions and/or copyright permissions to reproduce works held in the collections represented on the site.

Visit the site here