‘Boar’, a bronze by Elisabeth Frink (1930-93) in the Water Gardens area of Harlow town centre in Essex. Copyright: The executors of the Frink Estate & Archive. Photo credit: Tracy Jenkins/Art UK.

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The work by charity Art UK ensures items in the UK’s public collections will be available online, free of charge, to people all over the world.

Formerly known as the Public Catalogue Foundation, Art UK created a website that has catalogued the thousands of paintings and works on paper which are owned by public institutions.

Art UK began with oil paintings, digitising 200,000 of these, and then extended this to other pictures and works on paper and now to sculpture.

The works are owned by museums, universities and councils and many not on public display, meaning the Art UK website is the first time the public can view them.

“Showcases the nation’s art”

Andrew Ellis, Art UK director, said: “Art UK is all about democratising access to the art owned by the British public. This project will enable a global online audience to learn about the UK’s extraordinary collection of sculpture – held both inside institutions and in our streets and squares.

“What is immediately obvious from the sculptures now appearing online is the incredibly rich variety of artworks owned by the nation. We are very grateful to our funders for the support that has enabled this project to happen.”

Sir John Lewis, chairman of the Public Monuments and Sculpture Association (PMSA), said: “It has long been the ambition of the PMSA to provide a complete listing of public sculpture in the UK for all to access, as easily and inexpensively as possible. Our partnership with Art UK will ensure that sculpture is given its due recognition on this digital platform that showcases the nation’s art to the world.”

The works range from 15th century Nigerian artworks and Buddhist sculpture from south-east Asia to Italian Neoclassicism and 20th century America.

Works already recorded include Eve by Auguste Rodin, which sits outside a Nando’s restaurant in Harlow, Essex.

The cash cost of the project is expected to be £3.8m (including in-kind partner contributions this amounts to £5.2m). The National Lottery Heritage Fund has provided £2.8m, and Art UK successfully raised the remaining £1m from a range of donors including the Scottish Government, Arts Council England, the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation and the Garfield Weston Foundation.

Art UK has worked with seven partner organisations on the latest project: the PMSA (which helped catalogue and photograph outdoor public sculpture); BBC; Culture Street; Factum Foundation; the Royal Society of Sculptors; the Royal Photographic Society; and VocalEyes.

See the library of works online on Art UK’s website