UK Project Puts Every Publicly-Owned Painting Online

PCF photography at Stourhead (National Trust) © Dan Brown
PCF photography at Stourhead (National Trust) © Dan Brown

When Fred Hohler got peeved 14 years ago that a catalog did not exist of the paintings in Cambridge’s Fitzwilliam Museum, the seed for an unprecedented cultural heritage project was planted. Hohler's discontent led to a project that cataloged every oil painting in public ownership throughout the UK.

Hohler began the Public Catalogue Foundation (a registered charity) which has documented details and images of 212,000 paintings - by 40,000 artists held in 3,200 locations - in 86 volumes. Through a partnership with the BBC, digitized artworks were made accessible to all on the website Your Paintings.

In comparison, the Google Art Project currently has about 78,300 artworks from 460 cultural partners posted online.

Your Paintings allows site visitors to tag entries, making this massive art encyclopedia searchable by keywords beyond just art categories. This enables searches by subject, sitter, location and more, such as every image of the Duke of Wellington.

Since 80% of the publicly-owned paintings were in storage or not easily viewable, the project has essentially opened up a new worldwide gallery for the UK's art. Besides museum collections, paintings in police stations, courts, town halls, schools, hospitals, and even a lighthouse were documented.

Next to be catalogued are about 100,000 sculptures and statuary. The Heritage Lottery Fund has offered initial support of £2.84m.

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