United Kingdom National Public Art Collection Goes Live Online

Yesterday without the fanfare of a major celebration the Public Catalogue Foundation (PCF) and the BBC finished their ambitious task, of putting the United Kingdom’s entire public collection of oil paintings online. This makes the UK the first country in the world to allow access to its national collection of paintings for study. In total, 3,217 venues across the UK have participated in the project and 211,861 paintings are now on the Your Paintings website. Visit Here 

The United Kingdom holds in its galleries and civic buildings arguably the greatest publicly owned collection of oil paintings in the world. 210,000 publicly owned oil paintings are held in institutions ranging from museums large and small to town halls, universities, hospitals and even fire stations. However, four in five of these paintings are not on view. Whilst many galleries make strenuous efforts to display their collections, many paintings across the country are held in storage, usually because there are insufficient funds and space to show them. Furthermore, very few galleries have created a complete photographic record of their paintings, let alone a comprehensive illustrated catalogue of their collections. In short, what is publicly owned is not publicly accessible.

Over the last few years the PCF (Public Catalogue Foundation) has been photographing these paintings and collating information about each painting. In doing this it has been working closely with collections up and down the country. It expects to complete the digitisation programme by late 2012, when it will have recorded 210,000 paintings from over 2,800 collections.

Until recently, the PCF’s main focus was publishing a series of hard copy catalogues. Now its focus is turning to publishing online. Online access allows users to search paintings by various criteria and view larger images, whilst collections will be able to update their painting records. Most importantly, it gives the PCF’s work a much larger and wider audience.

To achieve this aim, the PCF has entered into a partnership with the BBC to build the Your Paintings website. Together the two organisations are radically improving the public’s awareness of the oil paintings they own but, in most cases, cannot see. Your Paintings launched in the summer of 2011.

Oil Paintings are the Project’s Principal Focus. However, tempera, acrylic and mixed media, where one of these media is the main constituent, are also included. Paintings on all forms of support (e.g. canvas, panel etc.) are included as long as the support is portable.

The national collection of oil paintings has been defined to include works owned by the state and local authorities together with those held in charitable trusts for the benefit of the public. Generally, the PCF’s approach has been to be inclusive in order that the database of paintings is as useful as possible. In total the PCF estimates there are approximately 200,000 oil paintings in the national collection. These are the work of approaching 40,000 artists.

Whilst local authority and national museum collections make up the majority of the institutions represented, paintings held by universities, hospitals, town halls, local libraries and even a lighthouse are included in the project. The project also includes collections held by national organisations such the National Trust, English Heritage, the Government Art Collection and Arts Council England. The largest collection in the project will be the National Trust with 12,500 works. At the other end of the scale many of the institutions hold just a single picture.

As long as paintings meet the requirements above, all paintings are included irrespective of their condition and perceived quality. However, painting reproductions can only be included with the agreement of the participating collections and, where appropriate, the relevant copyright owner. Paintings which have been lent to other institutions, whether for short-term exhibition or long-term loan, are listed under the owner collection. In addition, paintings on long-term loan are also included under the borrowing institution when they are likely to remain there for at least another five years from the date of publication of this catalogue.

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