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Art UK, the website housing the entire public collection of oil paintings in the UK, is calling on the art trade to help it identify works on its website.

The organisation, which has more than 210,000 oil paintings by 38,300 artists from more than 3200 venues across the UK, is hoping dealers and art experts will sign up to lend a hand.

Art UK’s Art Detective project is asking experts (as well as students and members of the public) to register and lead or partake in online discussions to track down missing information from the thousands of paintings on its website that are in public collections around the UK.

Around 15% of the paintings catalogued don’t have a full attribution to an artist, while thousands have unidentified sitters. Many others are missing details such as the location depicted.

Specialist Knowledge

Andrew Ellis, director of Art UK, said: “Anyone with specialist knowledge can help public art collections. We are asking the trade to be publicly spirited to help these organisations. By improving our public record it also improves the collections that are available as a research tool. Dealers can check our website for research for free.”

Art historian and dealer Bendor Grosvenor is one expert who has already helped. Five years ago the project helped identify a Sir Anthony van Dyck that had been in the storeroom of the Bowes Museum in Durham.

Grosvenor said: “Art UK allows us to see, appreciate, and investigate our national collection as never before. Dealers, practised in figuring out who painted what, are ideally placed to help identify some of the 40,000 unknown works of art the nation owns.”

Bendor Grosvenor

Dealer and art historian Dr Bendor Grosvenor presented an art series called ‘Britain’s Lost Masterpieces’ on BBC Four in September which tracked and researched paintings recorded in Art UK's database.

Ellis added: “There are still sleepers on the site and we need help.”

He said members of the trade could also benefit if they assist in an identification as they can use it as marketing purposes to show off their expertise.

The Art Detective website appoints group leaders to begin discussions about artworks and other experts are then encouraged to add comments. Once a discussion is underway the evidence is compiled and then reviewed. Some discussions can last many months. All discussions and recommendations are completed online.

Paintings still awaiting information include a painting by José Buzo Cáceres in the College of Optometrists and oil on canvas from the 1600s of Laomedon Refusing Payment to Poseidon and Apollo which is in a gallery at the University of Glasgow.

The collection started with cataloguing oil paintings and has now extended its role by creating an index for watercolours.

It is also awaiting funding next year to begin its catalogue of public sculptures.

Art UK is a joint venture between what was previously called the Public Catalogue Foundation, the BBC and 3000 museums and art collections.