Today the Public Catalogue Foundation (PCF) and the BBC completed their hugely ambitious project to put online the United Kingdom’s entire collection of oil paintings in public ownership. This makes the UK the first country in the world to give such access to its national collection of paintings. In total, 3,217 venues across the UK have participated in the project and 211,861 paintings are now on the Your Paintings website at http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings/
Your Paintings is a partnership between the PCF and the BBC. The PCF started making a photographic record of the UK’s oil paintings in 2003. The Your Paintings website, built by the BBC, was launched with 63,000 paintings in June 2011. The project covers paintings not only held by museums and galleries but also works in universities, local councils, hospitals and even paintings held in fire stations, zoos and a lighthouse. Typically 80% of these paintings are not on view whilst the vast majority have never been photographed. All oil paintings owned by the nation are shown irrespective of perceived quality and condition.
Your Paintings now allows everyone to see the full extent of the national collection for free together with BBC TV documentary archive and biographical information for selected artists from Oxford University Press. It is a project that will benefit art enthusiasts, students, curators, researchers, tourists and anyone unable to make the journey to the collections. In February 2013, the BBC will lead a nationwide celebration of Your Paintings with many opportunities for the public to discover paintings that have rarely been on view. More information will be announced on Twitter @your_paintings .
To help the PCF and BBC identify and catalogue what can be seen in each painting, the public is being invited to ‘tag’ the nation’s paintings. Tagging is fun, easy and you don’t need to be an art expert to do it. The results will allow future users of the Your Paintings website to find paintings of subjects that interest them. Your Paintings Tagger can be reached through the Your Paintings website.
Taken together, this collection of 212,000 paintings presents an unparalleled insight into the nation’s culture and history over 600 years both at the national and local level. Much of it constitutes an important pre-photographic record. It also presents an important survey of changing tastes and collecting habits. Approximately a quarter of the paintings are portraits with a preponderance of mayors, admirals, royalty and unknown sitters. Nestling among the tens of thousands of portraits are Eric Cantona and other Manchester United footballers painted in the style of Piero della Francesca and Mantegna; the entire town council of Crewkerne in Somerset painted by a fellow councillor; and Sean Connery painted as a life model in 1952 at the Edinburgh College of Art.
Paintings by over 37,000 artists are shown on Your Paintings. Old Masters and leading British painters are represented in considerable numbers: 391 paintings by Joshua Reynolds, 348 by Turner, 281 by Gainsborough, 273 by Walter Sickert, 189 by Stanley Spencer and 114 by Van Dyck. The less well-known John Everett and Marianne North have over 2,000 works between them. Surprising inclusions include paintings by Noel Coward, Cecil Beaton, Gertrude Jekyll, Derek Jarman and Dwight D Eisenhower. Approaching 30,000 paintings do not have firm artist attributions leaving the possibility of important discoveries in years to come.
The National Trust is the largest single collection on the website with 12,567 paintings followed by Tate, Glasgow Museums, the National Maritime Museum and National Galleries Scotland. However, approximately half of the collections on the site have ten or fewer paintings.
117,000 paintings are held across 2,197 collection venues in England outside London; 46,000 paintings (273 venues) in London; 30,500 paintings (441 venues) in Scotland; 12,500 paintings (195 venues) in Wales; 4,000 paintings (63 venues) in Northern Ireland; and 1,800 paintings (48 venues) in the Channel Islands.
40,000 paintings have been added to Your Paintings today in this final upload of paintings to the site. Collections added include the National Galleries of Scotland; the National Trust for Scotland; Manchester City Galleries; Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, Paisley Museum and Art Galleries, the Palace of Westminster, Dulwich Picture Gallery; The Courtauld Gallery; The Wallace Collection; and many more collections from Edinburgh, Southern Scotland, Bristol, Greater Manchester and Greater London. Also included in this upload are all the Oxford Colleges and many of the Cambridge Colleges – institutions that are not in public ownership but have joined the Your Paintings website for the benefit of wider public awareness and research.