Art UK: Launch of Ambitious Online Platform to Show The Nation's Art

Feb 24, 2016, 10:41 ET from Art UK

LONDON, February 24, 2016 /PRNewswire/ --

Launching today, Art UK ( ) is the next step in the realisation of an ambitious vision - to create universal online access to the UK's public art collection.

A collaboration involving 3,000+ public collections, this revolutionary project, unique in the world in its scale and ambition, puts the UK at the forefront of digital innovation. Art UK will give audiences at home and abroad unprecedented access to the UK's public art collection, much of which is not normally on view. For students, teachers, tourists and anyone interested in art or its subject matter, Art UK is a truly immersive online experience.

Art UK launches with the nation's entire collection of publicly-owned oil paintings - over 200,000 in number. From this summer, watercolours, drawings and artworks in other media, already digitised, will be progressively added by Art UK Partner Collections.

In 2017, Art UK will start work on photographing the nation's collection of sculpture from the last thousand years, some of it in 3D.  The Heritage Lottery Fund has already earmarked £2.8m towards this. Art UK is now raising further funds.

Art UK gives the British public unprecedented access to the art they own. It encourages audiences, young and old, to look at art in pursuit of their interests using thousands of tags created by members of the public. Guest contributors from all walks of life will help Art UK tell the stories behind artworks. The BBC will curate content from Art UK on and encourage its audiences to find out more by visiting Art UK.

On Art UK anyone can become a curator, create online exhibitions and share the art they discover with friends and colleagues across social media. They are also asked to turn Art Detective and help collections identify missing artist attributions and sitter names. There have already been exciting discoveries in this area including previously unknown paintings by Van Dyck and Gainsborough.

The first website with the aim of reflecting an entire nation's collection of art, Art UK offers extensive links and pathways to learn more about the nation's art. Links to Oxford University Press's suite of online products give UK public library cardholders free access to 55,000 biographies in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, as well as content from Grove Art Online.

Art UK is also a resource for tourists with an interest in art, who can plan visits to destinations around the UK, building itineraries around particular artists or collections. Hundreds of Partner Collection events and exhibition listings are provided by Culture 24.

An early version of the site was published on under the name 'Your Paintings'.  Over almost five years the website gained a regular audience of some 300,000 visitors per month.  Building on the success of Your Paintings and responding to the needs of audiences and collections, Art UK has been developed by the Public Catalogue Foundation - now also renamed Art UK. The Art UK platform will be operated on behalf of 3,000+ UK public collections allowing them all to reap the benefits of scale and technology. Joining the public collections online are a number of important private collections, including, for example, all the Oxford Colleges. Other important private collections will be invited to join.

The Art UK Shop will open this summer to generate much-needed income for the Partner Collections through the sales of prints and other merchandise. To date over 500 collections have signed up to ART UK as Partner Collections, paying a subscription and benefitting from the promotion and income-generating potential opened up by the site.

Art UK represents a collaboration involving thousands of participating collections, the BBC, funders, universities and other institutions. Notable among these are Culture 24, Oxford University Press, the Public Monuments and Sculpture Association, Glasgow University, the Visual Geometry Group at Oxford University and the Citizens Science Alliance based at the Astrophysics Department, University of Oxford.

The cost of building the Art UK website was principally borne by Arts Council England with additional funding from the Scottish Government and a private charitable trust.  The Partner Collections and corporate and individual Benefactors will play a key role alongside other funders and commercial income in ensuring Art UK is sustainable. The content of the Art UK website is the result of many years of digitisation undertaken by the Public Catalogue Foundation mostly with private funding.

The Art UK website was built by the London-based agency Keepthinking.

Art UK is now live at

The Art UK video starring Bob and Roberta Smith is available for download:

High-resolution images are available for download:


Andrew Ellis, Director, Art UK, said today:  

"We are immensely proud of the progress we have made in democratising access to the UK's art collection. We are particularly grateful to our partners, the nation's art collections, and to the many funders and supporters who have made this transformative project possible. Our ambition now is to add many more artworks, in a variety of media, to the Art UK platform and inspire audiences to engage with them and, where possible, visit them for real."  

Bob and Roberta Smith, Artist and Art UK Trustee, said: 

 "Through our public collections we all own art."

The Hon Ed Vaizey, Minister of State, Department of Culture, Media and Sport, said: 

"Art UK is a fantastic example of using innovation and technology to make art accessible to all. The UK is home to world-class collections and I hope that this project encourages even more people around the world to enjoy our great cultural offering."

Fiona Hyslop MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Europe and External Affairs, Scottish Government, said: 

"Art UK is a great example of what can be achieved through joint working and collaboration, delivering a level of public access and interaction with the nation's collections, and a level of exposure for smaller bodies and collections, which could never be achieved by bodies working on their own.  The Scottish Government continues to be very supportive of this and I commend Art UK on the significant progress they have made."  

Tony Hall, Director General, BBC, said: 

"I'm thrilled we're working with some of our country's finest institutions to bring Britain's art collections to everyone.  The launch of Art UK is another example of an open BBC, backing a visionary idea and working in partnership to make it happen.  We've been working hand in hand with so many talented people - and the results look amazing."  

Sir Peter Bazalgette, Chairman of Arts Council England, said:  

"The new Art UK website is a stunning example of how digital technology can make art available for everyone to enjoy. It means that anyone can now sift through our nation's entire collection of oil paintings without leaving their armchair. For those inspired, though, to look at the real thing, it also tells you which paintings you can see at your own local museum or art gallery. With exciting plans to add sculpture and other types of art work, Art UK will offer a growing feast of art for people to enjoy and be inspired by for years to come."

Caroline Nokes, Chair of the Speaker's Advisory Committee on Works of Art, House of Commons, said: 

"The public's relationship with art is changing in response to the digital age, and Art UK will play a crucial role in driving that change.  The public can now have access to public collections no matter where they are, all are open for universal viewing, and I am pleased that six hundred and fifty works from the Parliamentary Art Collection are already available through Art UK.   We are delighted to host today's launch of Art UK in the House of Commons and to continue our relationship with their project."

Nicholas Serota, Director, Tate, said: 

"The development of the Public Catalogue Foundation from publishing well-produced books to the digital offer of 'Your Paintings' and now Art UK is an impressive achievement. An imaginative start-up has become a vital part of the arts infrastructure, making it possible to find and to find out about paintings in more than three thousand public collections. I welcome the ambition to broaden the scope of the project from paintings to sculpture and other forms of visual art."

Gabriele Finaldi, Director of the National Gallery, said: 

"No other country has online access to such an extensive database of paintings as is provided by Art UK. That makes it unique in an international context, and I am delighted that the National Gallery's paintings are available and searchable in this way alongside so many others from British collections. "

Dr. Stephen Bury, Andrew W. Mellon Chief Librarian, The Frick Collection, New York, said: 

"Art UK's innovative combination of digitized collections and crowdsourcing transforms art

history and history itself. If only the USA had such a thing."

Kim Mawhinney, Head of Art, National Museums Northern Ireland, said: 

"Some projects have the capacity to be epoch-making and the development of Art UK may be such a moment in terms of access to art. The transition from 'Your Paintings' to 'Art UK' is undoubtedly a transformation and offers a unique window to the public collections of art across the nations and regions within the UK. It is wonderful that art from across Northern Ireland is a strong contribution to the sum of all the collections presented through this new digital platform.  Those who visit the site will find something very special, engaging and enriching."

David Anderson, Director General of Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales, said:  

"Being part of initiatives such as Art UK is vitally important for Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales. We exist to share Wales' national collections, including our world-class art collection, with new and existing audiences to encourage a greater awareness of, and interest in Wales' culture and heritage.

The digital platform, Art UK, will help us reach people close to home and internationally who would never have considered visiting our Museums before. Not only will it open up access to people who want to browse and enjoy Welsh art collections, it will also be a valuable resource for schools and family learning, as well as an academic research tool. It also has potential to open up further retail opportunities, which is becoming increasingly important for museums across the sector."

Rebecca Hill, Exhibitions and Collections Coordinator, Gallery Oldham, said: 

"The availability of our works online is an excellent tool to counter the commonly held myth that works of art in store are "hidden". Over the past four years we have seen a steady increase in the number of enquiries about our oil paintings, with many of those enquiring directly citing Your Paintings (Art UK's predecessor) as their first point of contact with our collections. I am thrilled that Art UK will soon include our collection's artworks in other media, thus increasing awareness of these."

Dr Simon Chaplin, Director of Culture & Society, Wellcome Trust, said: 

"The Wellcome Trust is delighted to support Art UK by funding the partnership fees all UK medical collections for 3 years. We would like to celebrate the quality and diversity of these collections, many of which had not been catalogued before the Public Catalogue Foundation started its work. Enabling over 250 UK hospitals, medical archives and clinics the opportunity to join Art UK as a partner will allow them to continue to share their collections with the widest possible audience, and create new opportunities for partnership and projects which promote public engagement with medical heritage".

Lauren Marshall, Hall Manager & Audience Development Officer, The York Company of Merchant Adventurers, said: 

"Art UK is a vital resource for smaller collections and our visitors. It allows us to achieve things, which simply would not be possible on our own. It enables us to reach new audiences across the UK and internationally, highlighting the range and breadth of our collections. It also provides smaller collections with a platform for interaction and discussion, not just with other organisations but with art experts, academic institutions and the general public, enabling us to share and disseminate knowledge like never before."

Tim Barton, Managing Director of Global Academic at Oxford University Press, said: 

"We are delighted to have formed a partnership with the Public Catalogue Foundation. Through their site Art UK, which replaces BBC Your Paintings, biographies from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography and content from Grove Art Online will complement and enhance the experience of public art for anyone wanting to find out more via their public library membership."

Emma Baudey, EMEA Arts and Culture manager, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, said: 

"As a leading corporate supporter of the arts we are especially keen to increase public access to the vast amount of art across the UK. With this in mind, we are pleased to be a founding benefactor of Art UK. Projects such as this reach tens of thousands of people not just in this country but around the globe, and are key to demonstrating how the arts can be made more accessible and sustainable for the long term. We hope to contribute to the ongoing public debate around these key issues by partnering with like-minded organisations to support Art UK."

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