Exploring Famous Art Galleries Online: Four Great Websites
Benefits of Online Art Galleries
I love visiting art galleries. I enjoy looking at paintings, sculptures, and whatever else a gallery has to offer. 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. The photos can often be enlarged and the art examined in detail.
Viewing historical art online can be fascinating, entertaining, and educational. In this article I review my favourite sites for exploring the art. The websites of the National Gallery in the UK, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the USA, and the Louvre in France allow visitors to explore the institution's paintings or sculptures. The idea behind the Google Arts & Culture website is slightly different. High resolution photos of paintings selected from many galleries and many countries have been placed on the site. The digital images are beautifully clear and viewers can often 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 2,400 paintings—can be viewed on the website. The collection consists of western European paintings from the 13th to early 20th century.
The Online Collection of the National Gallery
The National Gallery's online collection is fascinating to explore. The website provides ways for visitors who know something about the paintings to quickly reach a specific image. It also provides an easy and enjoyable way for someone who is not familiar with the art to explore the collection.
Visitors who want to randomly explore the paintings can perform the following steps. It's possible to lose some of the randomness as the paintings are explored and different links are clicked.
- On the home page, scroll down to “30 must-see paintings”. Clicking on this link brings up a page called “Highlights of the collection”.
- A visitor may choose to explore the highlighted paintings. They could also scroll down to the “Search the collection” link, which displays more paintings.
- If a visitor has no idea what to enter as a search term on the page that appears, they could click on any of the displayed paintings, which leads to new art and new choices. They could also click the “See more” link at the bottom of the page to reveal more paintings.
Clicking on the "Art and Artists" link on the menu is also a good way to explore the collection. It allows a visitor to search the collection, see highlights, view the latest arrivals, and see the picture of the month. As in the scenario described above, each new page that appears provides new choices to click. Even paintings that are not currently on display in the physical art gallery can be viewed online.
Exploring the Paintings
When each painting appears on the screen, information about the painting and artist is displayed as well. A link to key facts about the art is provided as well as one 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 rich in information. The best feature of the site is the ability 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. Images of certain paintings can be downloaded for free under a Creative Commons license. The National Gallery website is my favourite 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 are unable to visit the building in person. Like the National Gallery site, the website contains information about the museum and its art as well as an online store. The online art collection is large and very interesting. A recent and generous initiative was to give the photos of the art a public domain license, which means that they can be used on websites. 406,000 high resolution images are available for the public to use.
How to Explore the Collection
Clicking on the word "Art" at the top of the museum's home page and then on the "The Met Collection" tab is the gateway to the art. Additional links can then be clicked. My favourite one is "Open Access Artworks". As on the National Gallery website, there are multiple ways to explore the art.
The "Search the Collection" box that appears when a link is clicked works with the name of a specific piece of art, the name of an artist, or a general category of art, such as "flowers" or "cats".
Visitors can use filters to show work by artist/culture, object type/material, geographic location, date/era, or department. More than one filter can be used at a time. Additional buttons enable a search to be further refined.
Photos of the art that matches the chosen filters appear on the screen. The photos can be clicked to observe the art in more detail. Often multiple pages can be explored for each set of filters that is chosen, although as might be expected the number of matching photos generally decreases as the number of filters increases.
Viewing the Collection
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. At least on my computer screen, however, the photos are not as sharp at very high magnification as the ones at the National Gallery.
Some of the items in certain parts of the collection are described in words but lack images, which is frustrating. There's a filter 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, all of the paintings seem to have been photographed.
Through the combined efforts of generations of curators, researchers, and collectors, our collection has grown to represent more than 5,000 years of art from across the globe—from the first cities of the ancient world to the works of our time.— Metropolitan Museum of Art website
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 the essays include references.
To find the timeline of art history, click on the "Learn" tab at the top of the home page, then on "Adults". 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 of Google Arts & Culture. 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 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.
In addition to an online art collection, the website contains information about the current exhibitions at the museum as well as a "Learning about Art" link on its home page. The Flash player is needed to see some aspects of the site. 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.
The Magnificent Louvre
Exploring the Louvre Collection
The "Collections and Louvre Palace" tab on the home page is a good place to begin an online art exploration. Clicking this tab brings up other links. Some of the highlights include the following.
Curatorial Departments: displays links to nine departments of the Louvre—Paintings, Egyptian Antiquities, Greek, Etruscan and Roman Antiquities, Near Eastern Antiquities, Sculptures, Decorative Arts, Islamic Art, Prints and Drawings, and The Pavillon de l'Horlage. Each of the departments has clickable artwork that 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
It's certainly worth exploring the website to see what it offers. One of the main goals of the other three sites that I review seems to be to provide education and enjoyment to the public. I don't sense the presence of this goal so strongly at the Louvre website, however.
Google Arts & Culture Website
The Google Arts & Culture website is great fun to explore. The art collection is just one section of the large site. The home page contains lots of colourful photos that act as links to interesting sections of the website. Exploring the site by clicking on the photos is a worthwhile approach. Clicking on the "Explore" link at the top of the home page is also a great way to see what the site offers. For someone specifically interested in works of art from around the world, however, the menu at the top left of the page is more useful.
Clicking on "Collections" in the menu brings up a huge list of art gallery and museum exhibits that have been photographed. To find a specific institution, the search box at the top right of a page can be used. Background information is included about each piece of art. Some 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.
The menu includes other interesting links, including Themes, Artists, and Art Movements. The information on the site and the updates that appear make Google Arts & Culture fascinating to explore.
The art collection on the Google Arts & Culture website was formerly called the Google Art Project. The video below shows how a painting is photographed for the project.
Advantages and Limitations
I enjoy exploring the Google Arts & Culture website, especially the Collections section. The section has both advantages and limitations compared to other online art sites. Going to the website of an art gallery may allow a viewer to see more work from that gallery than they could see on the arts and culture site. For example, at the time when this article was last updated, the National Gallery in London had uploaded 183 paintings to Google Arts & Culture. If a person had gone to the National Gallery website instead they could have viewed more than 2,400 paintings.
Google Arts & Culture 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. The additional information under the photographs is always interesting. In addition to gallery art, the website contains street art and other types of information from human culture. This is also interesting to investigate.
Enjoyable and Educational Online Tours
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. I will never be able to see most of the paintings or sculptures in famous art galleries in real life, however. Therefore being able to examine them with my computer is a wonderful opportunity, even if I can't enlarge the images significantly.
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. A person could spend many hours on multiple occasions exploring the websites that I've described, especially in the case of the National Gallery, Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Google Arts & Culture sites. The exploration would very likely be a wonderful experience for art lovers.
References and Resources
© 2012 Linda Crampton