Most of us stick a lot of things in storage closets or rooms or basements, and then forget about them — for years sometimes. So do museums, as the many finds, like the Velazquez at Yale that I wrote about last year, attest.
A new initiative by the BBC and Britain’s public art collections scratches the itch many people have to find out what’s in those museum store rooms — as well as the galleries themselves. It’s called Your Paintings, a website just launched and still in beta. On it, the BBC, together with the Public Catalogue Foundation, aims to post all 200,000 oil paintings in the UK’s national collections. Right now, only about 63,000 are online, but… that’s still pretty impressive. Eventually they’ll all be there.
You can browse the site or search it; here’s the link.
The paintings come from about 850 collections around the country. At the moment, the most common artist is Sir Alfred Munnings by a long shot. But it has the best artists, too — like Raphael (his picture of St. John the Baptist Preaching from the National Gallery is below), Botticelli (a portrait by him at the National Gallery is at left), Leonardo and so forth and so on.
The BBC is encouraging participation by asking people to help tag the paintings, making them more searchable. Right now, only basic information about each painting, like the title, artist, and execution date, is on the site — there’s nothing about the type of painting, the subjects portrayed, the styles or the movements the represent, for example.
The site also has a nice feature — guided tours by “names,” like Yinka Shonibare, Mary Beard, Alistair Sooke, Gus Casely-Hayford, Frank Skinner, James Fox, Dan Snow, Tracey Cox, and others.
Some people don’t like this migration of images to the web, but while I do not in any way think it is a substitute for the in-person experience with art, I don’t see the harm in it either (as some do).
For me, another thing what makes a very good idea is that these paintings really do belong to British subjects, not to private museums – so they should have a real interest in knowing what they own. Most people are never going to visit the 850 galleries involved in the project. And the subtitle to the project is “Uncovering the nation’s art collection.”