All 212,000 of the United Kingdom's Oil Paintings are Now Online

Dec 13, 2012, 07:57 ET from The Public Catalogue Foundation

LONDON, December 13, 2012 /PRNewswire/ --

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

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 10 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.


Culture Minister Ed Vaizey said: "I congratulate The Public Catalogue Foundation on this tremendous achievement. Having all of a nation's oil paintings in public collections available online is a world first, and I'm delighted that these 200,000-plus works can now be viewed from around the world at the click of a button."

Scottish Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop said: "Scotland is home to a wealth of oil paintings, with more than 30,000 held in collections across the country. The successful completion of this hugely ambitious project means our nation's best-known treasures and hidden gems are now available online, free of charge, for all to enjoy."

Nicholas Serota, Director, Tate, said: "The Your Paintings website reveals the depth and breadth of the nation's collections of paintings, many of them published online for the first time.  This ambitious collaboration between organisations across the UK connects audiences with art in an immediate way, something we will take for granted in the future."

John Leighton, Director-General of National Galleries Scotland, said: "The completion of this catalogue is an amazing achievement and a cause for great celebration. The Your Paintings website demonstrates very clearly how the reach and impact of public collections is changing dramatically in the digital age bringing us all much closer to the paintings that we own and, I am sure, encouraging even more people to search out the actual objects in museums and galleries across the country."

Professor Deborah Swallow, Märit Rausing Director of The Courtauld Institute of Art, said: "As a university educating the art historians, conservators and curators of the future, we recognise how important access is not only to the paintings that are on view to the public but also those that are less accessible. Through Your Paintings and new technology, everybody can now enjoy the nation's collection and actively engage in art history."

Sarah Staniforth, Museums and Collections Director, National Trust, said: "The National Trust has the largest collection of oil paintings of a single institution in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, in its care and on permanent public display. This will be the first time our paintings from our historic house collections will all be seen in glorious colour and worldwide, thanks to the Public Catalogue Foundation's photography campaign and the BBC."

Martin Grimes, Web Manager, Manchester City Galleries, said: "Manchester Art Gallery is really proud to be part of the ambitious Your Paintings project which will allow us to share our extraordinary collection with the world.  We have uploaded over 2,200 of our oil paintings to the site, the culmination of over two years' work to photograph and document them so for the first time they can been seen in one place. Being part of a national collection also creates a new context for these works and means that even familiar paintings can be seen in ways we could never have previously imagined."

Kate Mavor, National Trust for Scotland said: "It is fantastic that each of the Trust's 2,000 paintings are now available as part of this amazing resource. From stern lairds with their beloved pets to stunning landscapes and dazzling colourists, the Trust's fine art collection is one of the nation's treasures."

Michael Craig-Martin, Artist, said: "There is something fundamentally egalitarian about Your Paintings. It means all the nation's paintings can be known to and accessible by the public that owns them. It will prove also an important tool for artists and cultural institutions alike. It allows artists to find out definitively the location of their works in public collections, greatly assisting them in the planning of exhibitions and publications. The comprehensive photographing of all works being undertaken by The Public Catalogue Foundation is already proving invaluable from a curatorial point of view. Your Paintings will help museums to have a better knowledge of their own collections and, as a result, make better use of them. I hope it will incite public interest in new works and encourage curators to rotate collections more frequently, breathing fresh life into the nation's art archives, rescuing forgotten treasures from obscurity, and finding important new audiences for our public collections."

Saul Nassé, BBC Controller of Learning, said: "I'm delighted we can now say the UK's vast collection of oil paintings is available for all to see, 24 hours a day.  The Public Catalogue Foundation has photographed every painting in loving detail and my team at the BBC have created a brilliant website. But we need one more group, the public, to join in our endeavour. We want people to get online and tag the paintings with the fascinating facts that will make the site even more engaging."

Mark Bell, BBC Commissioning Editor, Arts, said: "This partnership between the PCF and the BBC has achieved something special and unique, yet we are only just beginning to see the potential of what it means to make this national treasure accessible. Taken in its entirety, Your Paintings is the story of the country in pictures, but it is the individual discoveries, new attributions and connections that are most exciting - it will be wonderful to see our understanding of the collection deepen as increasing numbers of people explore and engage with it."

Fred Hohler, Founder of the PCF, said: "Your Paintings is complete! The achievement belongs to all those that made it happen: curators and collection managers and the teams behind them, the coordinators and the photographers in the field and the editors and researchers and copyright toilers and all the staff back in the office, the Trustees past and present, the generous donors, the Lords Lieutenant, the Master Patrons and the Series Patrons, the Friends and, of course, our Patron, The Duchess of Cornwall. Without the combined effort of each individual part, the whole would never have been achieved. The Foundation's achievement will be a lasting tribute to them all. I am truly grateful to each and every one of them."

Andrew Ellis, Director, the Public Catalogue Foundation, said: "No country has ever embarked on such a monumental project to showcase its entire oil painting collection online. Working with collections all over the land, this project reveals to the world the UK's extraordinary holding of oil paintings. Anyone with Internet access, anywhere in the world, can now see them all, completely for free."

Notes to Editors

About the Public Catalogue Foundation

The PCF is a registered charity. It was launched in 2003 to create a photographic record of all the oil (together with acrylic and tempera) paintings in public ownership in the United Kingdom. In addition to publishing its work online, the PCF is also publishing a series of printed catalogues. 46 titles in the Oil Paintings in Public Ownership series have already been published with more than 40 or so to be released over the next 12 months.

The painstaking research to locate the paintings up and down the country and collate the data was carried out by 50 researchers. Over 30 fine art photographers have been employed to take photographs of these paintings over the life of the project. London-based staff focus on fundraising, processing and editing the data that comes in from the field, and clearing copyright.

Now that the oil painting project is complete the PCF will focus on two strategic priorities. First, it will work on updating and enriching the oil painting records, partly through setting up an Oil Painting Expert Network to connect collections in need of expertise with a network of pro bono experts. Secondly, it will look to digitise other art objects, starting with the nation's sculpture collection.

The PCF is funded principally by grants and donations. The project to photograph and catalogue the nation's oil paintings will have cost just under £6m. Less than 15 per cent of its funding comes from the public sector. Whilst many hundreds of individuals and institutions have supported its work, the PCF's principal funders for the project throughout the UK are Arts Council England, The Art Fund, Binks Trust, Christie's, the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, the Garfield Weston Foundation, Hiscox, ICAP, the J Paul Getty Jnr Charitable Trust, the Monument Trust, the Scottish Government, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation and the Wolfson Foundation.

The PCF was founded by Dr Fred Hohler in 2002. Its Trustees are Charles Gregson (Chairman of the PCF), David Ekserdjian (Professor of Art History at the University of Leicester), Margaret Greeves (Chair of Collections Trust), Alex Morrison (Founder and Managing Director of Cogapp), Richard Roundell (Vice Chairman of Christie's UK), Marc Sands (Director of Audiences and Media at Tate), Dr Charles Saumarez Smith (Secretary and Chief Executive of the Royal Academy), Graham Southern (Founding Director of BlainSouthern) and the artist Alison Watt. The Director is Andrew Ellis.

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About BBC Online

BBC Online is BBC's portfolio of websites, available at It comprises 10 Products - News, Sport, Weather, CBBC, CBeebies, Knowledge & Learning, Homepage, Search, TV & iPlayer and Radio & Music. In April 2011, it had 31.7 million unique browsers and was the fourth most popular website in the UK. It is the only UK-owned website in the UK Top 10. Your Paintings is part of Knowledge & Learning.

The BBC creates partnerships with the arts sector that go beyond broadcast, from sharing expertise to widening public engagement in UK arts.

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SOURCE The Public Catalogue Foundation