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Your Paintings: Opening up the nation's art collection

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Nick Cohen Nick Cohen | 12:00 UK time, Thursday, 23 June 2011

Video about some of the places where Your Paintings live. 3min 18s

Today we announced the public beta launch of Your Paintings, a unique new initiative to make the UK’s entire national collection of oil paintings available to view online for the first time.

Many people don’t realise that the UK has tens of thousands of paintings in its publicly funded museums and institutions that are not currently viewable by the public, either because they are in storage or are kept in buildings that are inaccessible to the general public. The vast majority of these paintings have never been published online.

Unlocking our cultural heritage

Now, in partnership with the Public Catalogue Foundation (a charity established to document this national resource) and hundreds of galleries and collections across the country, BBC Online’s Your Paintings site will begin making these artworks available to view by anyone, anytime, for free.

You can see the site at: www.bbc.co.uk/yourpaintings.

Our initial beta release today already allows you to access over 60,000 paintings from over 800 collections, covering more than 15,000 individual artists. But this is just the start. We’ll be adding thousands more paintings every month, with the aim of having the complete national collection (estimated at around 200,000 works) available within 18 months.

Graphical meter: 63,000 of your paintings are now online


Building digital public space

We want Your Paintings to be much more than just a stand-alone website. This is a project rooted in a vision of the interconnected nature of online cultural resources and our ambition is be compatible with, and linked into, as wide a range of other related resources and initiatives as possible.

To enable this kind of interconnection we are working with our partner collections to investigate the provision of an API to the service. There are many complexities to be worked out involving the copyrights that exist in the images and data, but in principle we hope in time to make as much data as possible available. We would love to hear you thoughts and suggestions on this area.

How you can support the project

These paintings have the potential to be an amazingly rich learning resource – not just for art lovers, but for everyone, whether your interest is in history, society, war or even sport or fashion. This is one of the largest pre-photographic records of British society, with images dating back 600 years, and the site will play an important role in our developing knowledge and learning strategy.

We want to unlock this learning potential by working with the public to map the contents of these paintings - through the launch of Your Paintings Tagger. Your Paintings Tagger is a crowd sourced tagging application, built in collaboration with Arfon Smith and the team at Oxford University’s Astrophysics Lab, who were behind the hugely successful Galaxy Zoo website. You can access Tagger and start getting involved here.

With the beta launch today we’ve taken the first steps towards making an enormous quantity of data available to the public, but as ever with these things, there is a long way to go. As we move forward we would love to hear your thoughts, feedback and input on how we can improve and optimise the service. You can get either add a comment below or get in touch with us direct.

Nick Cohen is a Commissioning Executive, Multiplatform



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