An incredible resource and just great fun is the United Kingdom’s Public Catalogue Foundation Paintings online at the BBC website. It’s the first digital archive of a whole country’s holdings—in this case a kingdom. The collections are held by museums, universities, hospitals, town halls, local libraries, and even a lighthouse. It would take years to see all of them in their varied locations. it would take months just to find out when the institutions are open.
The site is beautifully designed so it easy to use. It allows you to create your own collections so you can return and view your own galleries with exhibitions curated by yourself. And send your friends the links.
The Wikipedia of Paintings
What makes this online collection unique is its size, its variety, and the tagging system. It contains more than 210,000 paintings by 40,000 artists—more are being added as you read this. Because it includes the collections displayed in local municipal buildings and schools as well as museum collections, it contains a wider variety of paintings than a selection pruned by a particular museum according to their standards and interests. This is all the museums together.
Because the public will be able to tag the paintings using Your Paintings Tagger, the collection will be completely indexed from a myriad of perspectives not just art history. Public tagging, like Wikipedia entries, allows participation by all the intelligence and knowledge in the world. The paintings will be indexed with more than painter’s name, nationality, dates, media, title, subject, and style. They will be indexed by the objects shown, weather conditions, fashions, identifiable people, events, religious references, pets, etc.
For Children and the Inexperienced
This is a fabulous place to learn about paintings and teach children about paintings. Tagging is engaging and the more points of view there are the better. Children see very different things than adults. There are no age restrictions.
The tagging system helps choose accurate tags. When I typed in a word, I was given a list of standard tags to choose from. Each one defined. This is reassuring because it goes as far as possible toward standardizing the tags used.
Standardization means when I want to find an automobile, I won’t have to type “car” plus every other name that might ever had been associated with it in order to find all the paintings that include automobiles. After the paintings have been tagged by a number of people, an algorithm will be used to determine the most commonly used tags for that painting.
I just tagged a 17th century painting of a woman in an elegant hat with “ribbon,” for example. In a few years, even a few months, i will be able to find needlework examples of the use of ribbons in dozens of paintings. And they won’t include paintings with ribbons of water or ribboned fields of wheat. This can be important to painters who are trying to paint a ribbon and having difficulty managing the paint and the sheen. Art historians trying to determine which painter did a particular unsigned painting that includes a ribbon. Digitized images are not the original but it can save a trip across country when the image indicates that a painting is obviously not helpful.
Want to see how kittens have been portrayed in the last 400 years? Want to tag gloves to show that gloves are an interesting subject in 19-20th century paintings? To see when earrings started appearing on women — and men? To see when fish became a subject worth painting and why? This is your place. Don’t miss it.
About the Public Catalogue Foundation
The Public Catalogue Foundation (PCF) in the United Kingdom plans to digitize all the paintings in the National Trust and other public collections in England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. The organizations that own the paintings include the National Trust, English Heritage, the Government Art Collection and Arts Council England. The collections are held by museums, universities, hospitals, town halls, local libraries and even a lighthouse.