I was looking up exhibitions at the Tate Modern yesterday when I came across the Your Paintings initiative, and wow, does it sound neat (not to mention ambitious!). A joint venture between the Public Catalogue Foundation and the BBC, it seeks to put online a database of the United Kingdom’s 200,000 publicly-owned oil paintings. Whoa. From the Your Paintings website:
The Public Catalogue Foundation is a registered charity set up to create a complete [online] record of the United Kingdom’s national collection of oil, tempera and acrylic paintings and make this accessible to the public.
There are an estimated 200,000 oil paintings in the UK’s national collection. To give a sense of the scale of the collection, the National Gallery in London has around 2,300 oil paintings. So it’s nearly one hundred times the size of that.
The collection includes works by some of the greatest painters of the last 700 years, as well as paintings by thousands of lesser known artists. It offers a remarkable insight into the history, landscape and culture of the United Kingdom.
To help with the project, the PCF and BBC have asked the public to take part in the Your Paintings Tagger, which uses crowdsourcing to build the paintings database. Members of the public can tag people, places, things, and events in each painting, allowing people to search the Your Paintings website for paintings that match their query.
Each painting will be tagged many times by members of the public, and algorithms behind the scenes will calculate which tags are likely to be the most accurate. These tags will then be fed through to the Your Paintings website. The algorithms have been created for the Public Catalogue Foundation by the Citizen Science Alliance based at the Astrophysics Department at the University of Oxford, with input from the Art History Department at the University of Glasgow.
I’m sure Your Paintings will be an endless resource — for educational purposes, those who want to learn about art, and more — upon its completion. In the meantime, you can try tagging some paintings yourself or browse the more than 110,000 paintings that have already been cataloged.
Oh, and Happy Leap Day!
Photo of the National Gallery in London by Taking of Toast