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The National Gallery of Art and its free resource NGA Images

Updated on September 27, 2013

Just as I was wondering if I was on a futile journey to find works of fine art, that were not only Public Domain, but were truly legally available to use freely online, commercially, internationally, without complications, a big announcement has been made in the world of art and copyright. Less than a week before writing this article, the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC launched its new site "NGA Images". Anyone like myself, who is pedantic enough and square enough to want to keep totally on the right side of copyright law, but have good access to works of art in the spirit that "Public Domain" implies, will be equally as joyous about this message and its implications.

I'm about to do something on a Hub that I wasn't sure until now I would ever be able to do. Here goes:

It's a Turner!

Keelmen Heaving in Coals by Moonlight, painted in 1835, by Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775 - 1851), Courtesy of National Gallery of Art, Washington.
Keelmen Heaving in Coals by Moonlight, painted in 1835, by Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775 - 1851), Courtesy of National Gallery of Art, Washington. | Source


and what's this?

It's a Gauguin!

Fatata te Miti (By the Sea), oil on canvas, dated 1892, by Paul Gauguin (1848 - 1903), courtesy of the National Gallery of Art, Washington.
Fatata te Miti (By the Sea), oil on canvas, dated 1892, by Paul Gauguin (1848 - 1903), courtesy of the National Gallery of Art, Washington. | Source


and oh my goodness

It's only a van Gogh!

Self-portrait, oil on canvas, dated 1889, by Vincent van Gogh (1853 - 1890), courtesy of the National Gallery of Art, Washington.
Self-portrait, oil on canvas, dated 1889, by Vincent van Gogh (1853 - 1890), courtesy of the National Gallery of Art, Washington. | Source

Any restrictions?

The database contains those paintings from the gallery's collection, that are now in the public domain for countries, like the States, who have a seventy year copyright law. If you want to err on the side of caution (for all my reading I'm not yet sure how the fact that some countries have a longer copyright period - of up to 100 years, affects use on the internet) then leave a hundred years after the death of the artist, and you absolutely, positively can't go wrong. No disclaimers here. No exceptions. No further small print that you have to read, or anything that you need to take mine or anyone else's word for. If the artist died one hundred years or more ago, then you may download and use these images without having to worry at all. You may choose to use the seventy years since death ones too, and this may well be okay, but as I say I'm not quite certain about what the difference is yet. I'll update this article if and when this becomes clear.

Is it time for another picture?

Right, we haven't had a picture since 187 words ago. Let's not hold back, I feel like a kid in the NGA candy shop. Here's a look at something a bit different from the collection. There are lots of drawings and engravings by eminent artists too:

A bit of Dürer

Adam and Eve, engraving dated 1504, by Albrecht Dürer (1471 - 1528), courtesy of the National Gallery of Art, Washington.
Adam and Eve, engraving dated 1504, by Albrecht Dürer (1471 - 1528), courtesy of the National Gallery of Art, Washington. | Source

What about Wiki?

Not even Wikimedia Commons (amazing resource as it is when used correctly) is this easy to use, because of the gray areas of copyright law that they have taken a "position" on, and the resulting disclaimers they have, which get more and more complex the deeper you read through them. They have also been legally challenged, especially by the National Portrait Gallery in London, for using material that is not out of copyright under UK (and other) laws.

What the NGA has done is a big deal in the online art world.

What NGA Images is

A collection of over 20,000 downloadable "open access" files of world class paintings (825 currently available), drawings (3,161) photographs (260), an amazing number of mostly very beautiful prints (15,527), as well as a few more bits and pieces - coins and so on. You will not find more prominent names here from the world of art history, as the pictures here have been chosen to exemplify.

What's special about this, is that whilst these works are in the Public Domain, most galleries claim copyright on their electronic images of their Public Domain works. That's what's different here - the NGA is making its electronic images freely available to use.

What NGA images is not

The images available are all ones that the NGA owns, of works in their own collection. Therefore you will not find images of works here that are owned by other galleries, or to which NGA does not hold the entire rights.

So where's the party happening?

Here it is:

The National Gallery of Art's NGA Images Website

It's an enormous database, but NGA Images has edited together a few "collections" which are a good starting point to get a sense of the calibre of art here. Here's one of them:

The "Frequently Requested" Collection on NGA Images

I saved about $1000 today

I think it's worth mentioning that prior to this move, the going rate for licensing five images of this quality and size, for international use online, would have probably exceeded US$1000 per year. Whilst that may be appropriate for a company's permanent website for instance, obviously that was never going to make sense for an online article like this.

Now we get them for free.

In the meantime, I for one already have a big smile on my face right now. What shall we finish off with? Let's bring out the big guns. How about a Leonardo?

Ginevra de' Benci - she's the only Leonardo in the Americas

Ginevra de' Benci, dated 1474/1478, by Leonardo da Vinci (1452 - 1519), courtesy of the National Gallery of Art, Washington.
Ginevra de' Benci, dated 1474/1478, by Leonardo da Vinci (1452 - 1519), courtesy of the National Gallery of Art, Washington. | Source

Poll

Do you think you will download and use pictures from NGA Images?

See results

Other Articles on Art and Copyright

The Mona Lisa still isn't up for grabs, because she is not owned by the National Gallery of Art, but by The Louvre in Paris. But who knows where the NGA's decision to share its toys might lead in influencing other galleries? In the meantime, the following still applies to the intricacies of art copyright:

What's the Difference Between a Public Domain Painting and its Image?

Photographs of Fine Art Paintings - Do They Have Their Own Value?

I heard about the NGA decision just as I was about to give up on ever finding a single organisation or artist where the copyright situation was completely transparent.

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    • Keri Summers profile image
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      Keri Summers 4 years ago from West of England

      Indeed Brian I totally agree! I'd love to see Ginevra for real. In fact I was at a conference in DC a few years back, and had about 45 minutes to rush around the museums and galleries before leaving for my flight. I've never seen so much art so quickly, but it was wonderful. I didn't get to the NGA, but I did manage three of the smaller museums in that time!

      Thanks for your comment, especially as a local!

    • brianlokker profile image

      Brian Lokker 4 years ago from Bethesda, Maryland

      Since I live in the Washington DC area, I've been fortunate to see Leonardo's Ginevra de' Benci and these other works of art in person. There are still so many great paintings and other works in the National Gallery that are not part of the NGA Images open access collection. Let's hope NGA Images continues to expand!

    • Keri Summers profile image
      Author

      Keri Summers 4 years ago from West of England

      Thanks Suzette, yes I think in US law, as best I understand it, you would be able to use these images anyway, but I think it's nice that the NGA has gone to the trouble to aid access to them, and also now willingly share their public domain artworks through digital media. The vast majority of galleries, in the US and elsewhere, have yet to take this step!

    • suzettenaples profile image

      Suzette Walker 4 years ago from Taos, NM

      Great article and I didn't know about the National Gallery of Art making certain art works public domain, and I live here in America. LOL Thank you so much for such an informative and interesting article. I will definitely use images from here.

    • Keri Summers profile image
      Author

      Keri Summers 4 years ago from West of England

      Gosh, these comments show how long I've been off HubPages, Millionaire, WannaB and the lyric, thank you for your comments.

    • thelyricwriter profile image

      Richard Ricky Hale 5 years ago from West Virginia

      Keri, I enjoyed viewing this art very much. I always enjoy art. Valuable information and great art, what's not to love? Fantastic job Keri!

    • WannaB Writer profile image

      Barbara Radisavljevic 5 years ago from Templeton, CA

      Wow! What a goldmine! Thanks for sharing this.I will check it out very soon -- as soon as the recipe contest is over.

    • Millionaire Tips profile image

      Shasta Matova 5 years ago from USA

      This is amazing. Our hubs are going to look so pretty with these wonderful paintings on them.

    • Keri Summers profile image
      Author

      Keri Summers 5 years ago from West of England

      I'm glad you found it useful Grace.

    • profile image

      GRACE BRADDOCK 5 years ago

      THANKS FOR YOUR INFORMATION

    • Keri Summers profile image
      Author

      Keri Summers 5 years ago from West of England

      CH, I love galleries too, these online images can be beautiful, but it's even better to stand in front of the real thing, isn't it? Thanks for commenting.

    • Keri Summers profile image
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      Keri Summers 5 years ago from West of England

      phdast7, thanks for your lovely comment. I will check out your writing about your grandparents' work.

    • Keri Summers profile image
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      Keri Summers 5 years ago from West of England

      Hi Pamela, lovely to see you here. I'm glad you had a look around NGA. I just checked - I always think of your centipede stories - and they have at least one old pic in there! Thanks for coming by.

    • Keri Summers profile image
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      Keri Summers 5 years ago from West of England

      Thanks for your comment Sandra, I'm delighted to have found them, and be able to pass them on. They're great, aren't they?

    • Keri Summers profile image
      Author

      Keri Summers 5 years ago from West of England

      Thanks for your kind comment. I hope you have fun in the NGA database, and I really do hope you get to use some of the images. I'll watch out for them in your Hubs!

    • Keri Summers profile image
      Author

      Keri Summers 5 years ago from West of England

      Thanks for your comment Melis Ann. It's much more satisfying to use an image knowing you're doing it right, isn't it, and I think it's also more interesting for the reader. I'm glad you've found this useful.

    • Keri Summers profile image
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      Keri Summers 5 years ago from West of England

      Wayseeker, thanks so much for your comment, I'm really gratified that this is useful to you, especially in your position as teacher. I think it's brilliant that you are giving your students the tools to take copyright seriously, and in a practical way. I hope that as the web "grows up" it will be far less complicated for them to know what is what in terms of copyright than it is for us all now.

    • CreateHubpages profile image

      CreateHubpages 5 years ago

      I like to visit an art gallery.

    • phdast7 profile image

      Theresa Ast 5 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Fabulous Hub and very generous of you to share them with all of us. What a terrific resource. Bless you. :)

      And speaking of art...my Polish grandparents were artists and I have done several hubs about them. You might appreciate them.

    • Pamela Kinnaird W profile image

      Pamela Kinnaird W 5 years ago from Maui and Arizona

      Fantastic information. I've enjoyed spending some time looking at the collection. Voted up and useful.

    • sandrabusby profile image

      Sandra Busby 5 years ago from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA

      Thank you for sharing this news and these images. Sandra Busby

    • brianlokker profile image

      Brian Lokker 5 years ago from Bethesda, Maryland

      This is excellent news, and a terrific explanation. I will be exploring the NGA database, and I'm sure some of the images will find their way into my articles.

    • Melis Ann profile image

      Melis Ann 5 years ago from Mom On A Health Hunt

      Thank you so much for sharing this information on NGA images. I am very careful to reference my sources so it will be great to have an easy method and huge resource for more images.

    • wayseeker profile image

      wayseeker 5 years ago from Colorado

      I love anyone who is particular about copyright. I've actually used the Creative Commons part of Flickr.com (I know there are others) to teach my school students how to use images with proper citation instead of just pilfering things off of Google images.

      This is phenomenal resource for teaching them another angle on this--in addition to being a great resource for me as a writer.

      What a great gift to the Hubber community here...voted UP and USEFUL!

      wayseeker

    • Keri Summers profile image
      Author

      Keri Summers 5 years ago from West of England

      Thanks Lisa, for your comment and your vote. It's a great resource isn't it? It was very satisfying to find this.

    • Rusticliving profile image

      Elizabeth Rayen 5 years ago from California

      OMG... Somehow I predict that we will be seeing a lot of images from NGA on hub articles!! Just saying! What a WEALTH of information you have just shared with the limited world of publishing. Thank you so much for your hard work in researching, writing and sharing this news with us! Voted Up!!! Lisa

    • Keri Summers profile image
      Author

      Keri Summers 5 years ago from West of England

      Hi CC. Thanks for sticking with me through all the inconvenient truth stuff about copyright on my previous Hubs. This feels like the pay-off doesn't it? I would imagine that other galleries will start to follow in due course, especially in the States where the copyright laws on fine art have already been undermined with a successful court case or two.

    • cclitgirl profile image

      Cynthia Sageleaf 5 years ago from Western NC

      Wow! Awesome! Do you know how many hubbers and writers will benefit from this information? This is *incredible*!!! Thank you for sharing this. Those of us who like to occasionally talk about art will now be able to include relevant pictures. :)