A unique free online resource that gives access to thousands of paintings in public collections across the UK is due to be completed in December.
The Public Catalogue Foundation reached a
landmark point last week after nearly a decade when it completed
the task of taking photographs of 210,000 pictures, ready to finish
Sculpture may be added next. Meanwhile the
PCF also aims to establish a panel of experts to help identify and
detail works, and it is hoping that the trade will volunteer
information where they can.
The database is expected to be a significant
help to the trade in attributing unknown works on the market, as
well as adding to dealers' and academics' knowledge of the work and
style of artists. Its particular value will be in exposing works
that are usually kept out of sight in museums, galleries and other
public institutions across the country.
PCF is a charity which provides the
resources for the BBC to host the paintings and information on its
online Your Paintings facility, with the project's
supporters including Christie's along with dealers Blain Southern,
Hauser & Wirth, Hazlitt, Gooden & Fox, Liss Fine Art,
Lisson Gallery, Philip Mould & Company, Richard Green Gallery
and Simon C. Dickinson.
PCF director Andy Ellis told ATG: "The idea
behind it is the nation has a wonderful paintings collection and
80% is in store, not on view, and a good two-thirds of it has
probably never been photographed, so this public collection is
there but not really known about yet. This project was set up to
"The photography which finished last week
has taken almost ten years, and last Thursday we took our last
photos at the National Football Museum in Manchester, which has
over 50 paintings, and over the next few months the photos will be
processed, edited and 40,000 paintings will join the site in
December, taking it to 210,000. That will be approaching 2800
collections on the site, across the UK.
"The research has been very thorough and
participation rates have been very high - close to 100% from
museums and town councils, all but a handful of universities,
probably 80% of hospitals."
When the PCF was set up in 2003 it produced
paper catalogues only, but by 2007 it realised that online access
was necessary to bring it to a wider audience, and Mr Ellis said
the BBC "saw this as being very much in tune with their remit to
increase access to the arts".
Some 45,000 artists feature on Your
Paintings, with the record number of pictures - 982 -
attributed to one artist, being those of 19th century naturalist
Marianne North, who has a gallery dedicated to her work at Kew
Mr Ellis, who formerly worked in research
for banks, is eager for the art trade to become more involved, not
least because of funding (only 15% of PCF's money comes from public
sources and the project has cost about £6m so far).
"From talking to dealers, I know many have
found the site and because I go to the art fairs quite often, doing
a bit of marketing, I know awareness has increased, but my guess is
half of the dealers do not know about it," he added.
"Museum cutbacks in fine art curators, for
example, mean lots of information is missing on these paintings and
that's where the art trade can help perhaps. Our guess is about 10%
of the paintings do not have artist attributions - 20,000
paintings, that's a big number - and there are plenty of sitters
without names, so one thing we are going to try to do is set up the
Oil Painting Expert Network, some time next year if funding allows,
that would allow collections to go through a central point, and ask
questions to experts."
Such help would be on a pro bono basis when
the experts had time, slowly increasing the knowledge.
Mr Ellis said there were simply too many
watercolours for them to be added to the database, "but we are
seriously considering doing sculpture. Hopefully the funding will
be a bit easier, as well, next time round".
Jane Hay, managing director of Christie's
UK, said: "We congratulate the immense efforts of the PCF who have
created a huge resource which benefits anyone with an interest in
art, in terms of both appreciation and scholarship.
"This project has opened up a huge resource
which makes previously hidden information accessible to the public,
in terms of individual artists, as well as individuals, places,
occasions and more. This will increase the public's awareness and
appreciation of what they own, while also offering historians and
art scholars an extremely rich and valuable source of
Simon Dickinson, one of the patrons, said:
"I think it has more potential at the moment but it is a good thing
to have done and could be very useful. It is a very interesting
concept and it is always useful to know where everything is, such
as different versions of a picture."