Exploring Art Galleries Online - Paintings, Sculptures and More
I love visiting art galleries. I know very little about art history, but I enjoy looking at paintings, drawings and photographs. When I travel to a new city or country I always try to visit an art gallery in the area. The trouble is that there are many wonderful galleries in the world and I don’t have enough time or money to visit them all. An exciting and relatively new trend is for art galleries to put photographs of some or all of their collections on their websites.
Viewing historical art online is an engrossing activity. It's fascinating, entertaining and educational at the same time. In this article I review my favorite websites for exploring historical art. The websites of the National Gallery, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Louvre all allow visitors to explore the gallery's or museum's paintings. The idea behind the Google Art Project website is slightly different. High resolution photos of paintings selected from many galleries and many countries have been placed on the Art Project site. The digital images are beautifully clear and viewers can zoom in to see fine details. The result is a great resource for art lovers.
The National Gallery Website
The National Gallery in London, England has a fantastic website. It provides information about the physical art gallery, art history articles, educational videos, a virtual tour of the rooms and downloadable podcasts. The website also has a useful glossary of art terms and a history of the collection. In addition, the entire National Gallery collection - over 2300 paintings - can be viewed on the website. The collection consists of western European paintings from the 13th to early 20th century.
How to Find the Online Collection on the National Gallery Website
There are links to the online collection at several places on the website. One way to enter the collection is to click on the "Paintings" tab at the top of the home page. Once this is done there are several possible routes for the visitor to follow. If the "Explore the Paintings" link on the left of the screen is clicked, another screen appears. The following links then appear.
- Artist A to Z: allows visitors to choose an artist from an alphabetical list
- Browse by Century: allows visitors to choose artwork by century
- Thirty Highlight Paintings: shows visitors the most popular pictures in the gallery.
- Latest Arrivals: shows the latest acquisitions and loans.
- Take a Chance: displays ten randomly-chosen pictures from the collection
The National Gallery website is so full of items to click that it might seem a bit confusing, especially for first-time visitors. Clicking on any link will produce something interesting, though. A frequent visitor will soon find their way around the website. There's a search box for someone to quickly find a specific piece of art or a specific artist.
A Leonardo da Vinci Exhibition at the National Gallery
Exploring the Paintings
When each painting appears on the screen, information about the painting and artist is displayed as well. There is a link to key facts about the painting and another to a biography of the artist. Other links let visitors explore more information related to the artist and visit the room where the painting is located. In addition, visitors can order a print of the painting. The site has an online shop which ships internationally.
The National Gallery website is information-rich. The best feature of the site is allowing the visitor to explore the paintings. Viewers can enlarge each image repeatedly without loss of detail. At high magnifications the picture is still clear. The effect is rather like sitting on a bench in an art gallery to contemplate a painting in its entirety and then walking up to the painting to look at a tiny detail. While the image is magnified viewers can move to different parts of the image to examine each section.
Admission to the National Gallery building is free, although tickets need to be purchased for special exhibitions. This spirit of sharing art freely with anyone who wants to see it is present in the gallery's website as well. It's my favourite art gallery site out of all the ones that I've reviewed.
Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City has a wonderful collection of paintings, sculptures and decorative art. It's a very active building and offers a wide variety of special events and courses to local people. Conservation and research projects are also carried out at the museum. The museum's website is a useful resource for everyone, especially for people who can't visit the building in person.
Like the National Gallery site, the Metropolitan Museum of Art website contains information about the museum and art. It also has an online shop. The "Collection" tab on the home page is the gateway to the art. Visitors to the website can view paintings and sculptures by clicking on links under the Collections tab. The most useful one for a virtual tourist is "The Collection Online" link, but the other links lead to an enjoyable exploration, too.
By following the The Collection Online link, a visitor can explore works by artist, object type, geographic location, era or department. They can also search for a specific piece of art or a specific artist. The website is loaded with art information, just like the National Gallery site.
Exploring the Museum Online
A visitor can easily spend hours exploring the museum's collection online, as is true for the National Gallery's online art, and then return to do more exploring later. The number of records in the online collection increases frequently as new items are added.
Once a photograph of a painting, sculpture or other object is chosen, the viewer can enlarge the picture repeatedly and move to different areas of the image. The picture remains clear the whole time, unlike the usual case when online photos are enlarged.
Some of the items in certain parts of the collection are described in words but lack images, which is frustrating. There is a button on the collection page that lets a visitor specify that they only want to see objects with images. Luckily for me, since paintings are my main interest, the paintings do seem to have all been photographed.
Art History at the Metropolitan Museum
The Metropolitan Museum of Art website also includes the Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. This links to the items in the museum by time period and also includes information about that period. It's a great resource for art history students and for interested laypeople. It's also useful for researchers, since it includes a long list of references.
To find the timeline of art history, click on the "Learn" tab at the top of the home page. if you scroll down on the resulting screen, you'll see the link to the timeline.
The Louvre Online
The Louvre museum is located in Paris, France. The Louvre website is interesting and informative, but it doesn't provide the wonderful user experience of the previous websites or the Google Art Project. The photos of the art can be enlarged, but not as much as on the other websites. It's not possible to zoom in on a fine detail. In addition, the online collection is much less extensive than that of the other sites reviewed in this article. The site is still enjoyable, however. It's great to view some of the impressive art stored in the Louvre.
The Louvre website also contains information about the current exhibitions at the museum as well as a "Learning about Art" link on its home page. The linked section of the website provides some interesting and useful information.
The Magnificent Louvre
Exploring the Louvre Collection
The "Collections and Louvre Palace" tab on the home page is the place to begin an online art exploration. Clicking this tab brings up other links.
Curatorial Departments: connects to links to the eight departments of the Louvre - Paintings, Egyptian Antiquities, Greek, Etruscan and Roman Antiquities, Near Eastern Antiquities, Sculptures, Decorative Arts, Islamic Art, and Prints and Drawings. Each of the departments has clickable artwork which can be magnified.
Search the Collection: allows a visitor to search for a specific work or artist
Selected Works: allows a visitor to choose works that are organized by theme. Examples of themes include landscapes, portraits and Napoleon.
History of the Louvre: displays a brief history of the Louvre
Online Tours: links to three online tours - one about Egyptian antiquities, another about the remains of the Louvre's moat and one about the Galerie d'Apollon
Like the previous two sites, the Louvre website has an online shop that ships around the world. A visitor can order high quality prints of their favourite works.
Google Art Project
The Google Art Project website is great fun to explore. Google takes high resolution photos of artwork and then uploads the photos to the project website. Art from galleries and museums from around the world can be viewed in one convenient place. Background information is included about each piece of art. Many of the photos are linked to Google Street View so that the visitor can see the surroundings of the art in its gallery. In addition, many photos have a map of the gallery's neighbourhood underneath, which can also be viewed in Google Street View. In some cases videos about the art are included as well.
A visitor can explore the art project site in several ways. There is a search box at the top of the screen. There are links to collections, artists, artworks and user galleries on the home page. The home page also has clickable photos of featured content.
The Art Project site is part of the Google Cultural Institute. Other parts of the institute can be explored via a drop down list on the home page of the art project site.
Photographing a Painting for the Google Art Project
Google Art Project Limitations and Advantages
I enjoy exploring the Google Art Project site. It has both limitations and advantages compared to other online art sites, however. Going to the website of an art gallery or art museum may allow a viewer to see more work from that gallery than they could see on the Art Project site. For example, at the time that this article was written, the National Gallery in London had uploaded 140 paintings to the Google Art Project. If a person had gone to the National Gallery website instead they could have viewed more than 2300 paintings. Many pictures on the Art Project website can be enlarged and examined in sharp detail, but not all of them can.
The Google Art Project may lack in-depth treatment of certain art galleries, but it compensates for this in the breadth of its information. It's fascinating to see art from so many galleries and so many countries. Street art is included as well as gallery art. The additional information under the photographs is always interesting.
The Ambassadors by Hans Holbein
I love to visit all the websites that I've described. I appreciate the ability to explore great art. It is a bit disappointing to visit an online art gallery that doesn't allow me to zoom in on an image after I've been able to do this at another site. However, I will never be able to see most of the paintings or sculptures in famous art galleries in real life. Therefore being able to examine them with my computer is a wonderful opportunity, even if I can't enlarge the images significantly.
There's a ratings capsule below so that you can rate the online art galleries as a group. I've given them a 5 star rating. I think that exploring places and objects that otherwise may never be seen is an important function of the Internet, especially if the exploration is interactive.
Individually, I would rate the National Gallery site as a 5 (due to the extensive online collection and the fine image quality), the Metropolitan Art Museum as a 4.8 (due to the missing images in some of the galleries), the Louvre site as a 4.8 (due to the inability to magnify the images significantly), and the Google Art Project as a 5 (due to the many galleries and countries represented and the fine image quality). My average rating is 4.9, which rounds off to 5!
Rate The Online Art Galleries
© 2012 Linda Crampton
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