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Exploring Famous Art Galleries Online: Four Great Websites

Celia Thaxter's Garden, Isles of Shoals, Maine

Celia Thaxter's Garden, Isles of Shoals, Maine

Benefits of Online Art Galleries

I love visiting art galleries. I enjoy looking at paintings, sculptures, and whatever else an institution 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 institutions 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 favorite 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.

Websites and Galleries

The website information given below was accurate when I last updated the article. In my experience, even when one of the sites has changed its design since I first discovered it, the offerings and enjoyment have stayed the same. Anyone who plans to visit a gallery in person should check its website for current information.

A screenshot from the "Highlights from the collection" page of the National Gallery website

A screenshot from the "Highlights from the collection" page of 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 (though these are several years old). The website also has a useful glossary of art terms and a history of the collection. In addition, the entire National Gallery collection can be viewed on the website. The collection consists of western European paintings from the 13th to early 20th century.

Screenshot of the fourteenth-century "Wilton Diptych" on the National Gallery website

Screenshot of the fourteenth-century "Wilton Diptych" on the National Gallery website

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. Multiple links and multiple ways to explore the art are available.

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. A search box is provided at the top of the page to enable someone to find a particular painting or work by a particular artist.

  1. The relevant link at the end of this article goes to the “Highlights from the collection” page, which could be a good way to start an exploration. The visitor 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.
  2. Clicking on the "Art and Artists" link on the drop-down 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 can be displayed as well. A link to key facts about the art is provided as well as one that provides a description of the work. A low-resolution version of the image can be downloaded without charge. If the viewer wants to buy a print of the image, they can do this. The site has an online shop that 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. Free tickets for regular visits can be bought online in advance of the trip, which would save a queue at a ticket booth. The spirit of sharing art freely with anyone who wants to see it is also present in the gallery's website. The National Gallery website is my favourite out of all the ones that I've reviewed.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City

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 and other resources. The online art collection is large and very interesting.

A recent and generous initiative was to give photos of the art a public domain license, which means that they can be used on websites. Someone who wants to do this should check the license for a particular photo in case it has been changed.

Screenshot of the Metropolitan Museum of Art website

Screenshot of the Metropolitan Museum of Art website

How to Explore the Collection

Clicking on the relevant link at the end of this article will reveal "The Met Collection", which is one gateway to the art. The page provides some useful links. As on the National Gallery website, there are multiple ways to explore the art. The Search box at the top of the page 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.

Ceramics on the Metropolitan Museum of Art website

Ceramics on the Metropolitan Museum of Art website

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 includes the Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. This section 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, click on “Learn With Us” at the top of a page and then scroll down to “Timeline of Art History.”

As is true for the other sites that I review, there are additional interesting and enjoyable topics to explore on the Metropolitan Museum of Art website besides the ones that I’ve highlighted. It’s well worth visiting. A ticket must be purchased to visit the gallery in person.

Screenshot of the Louvre website home page

Screenshot of the Louvre website home page

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. The site is still enjoyable, however. It's great to view some of the impressive art stored in the Louvre.

A new initiative that has happened since I first reviewed the site is to put the entire collection online. A visitor should be aware that some of the information about the art is written in French, though the amount of English has increased since I first visited the website. The gallery says that multiple art photos are being placed online everyday and that they currently don’t have the time or the staff to translate everything into English. The translation ability of an Internet browser would be useful. Fortunately, art is a visual medium. I think that for many people, the language barrier will be a minor problem.

In addition to an online art collection, the website contains information about the current exhibitions at the museum. 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

At the top of the home page, visitors will see three menu items: Visit, Explore, and What’s On. The second item is the most useful for people who want to explore the gallery online. The “Explore” tab leads to other links, including the "Collections" one.

If someone has no idea what to type in the search box for the collection database, scrolling down the page to the “Themed albums” section could be very useful. Clicking on one of the album names in this section leads to a display of multiple pieces of art. Even better, clicking on one of the pieces brings up a page containing not only information about that work but also a link to other works by the artist and to the various departments of the gallery.

Departments that can be explored include Paintings, Egyptian Antiquities, Greek, Etruscan and Roman Antiquities, Near Eastern Antiquities, Sculptures, Decorative Arts, Islamic Art, Prints and Drawings, and more. Each of the departments has clickable artwork that can be magnified. It's certainly worth exploring the website to see what it offers. Recent updates have made the Louvre website a very enjoyable and informative site to visit.

Screenshot of the Google Arts & Culture Collections page

Screenshot of the Google Arts & Culture Collections page

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. As the visitor scrolls down the page, they’ll see lots of enticing links.

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, opening the menu at the top left of the page may be 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 another fascinating website 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 of the Site

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. The Google site seems to be expanding, however. For example, its collection of images from the National Gallery in London has greatly increased since I wrote the previous edition of this article. It's still much much smaller than the one on the National Gallery's website, but it adds to the enjoyment of exploring the Arts & Culture site.

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. These items are also interesting to investigate. It would take a long time to explore everything that the site offers, and the exploration would very likely be very enjoyable.

Screenshot from the Google Arts & Culture website

Screenshot from the Google Arts & Culture website

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 as extensively as on another site. I will never be able to see most of the paintings or sculptures in famous art galleries in real life, however. Being able to examine them with my computer is a wonderful opportunity, no matter what website I’m exploring.

I think that exploring places and objects that may never be seen otherwise is an important function of the Internet, especially if the process is interactive. A virtual exploration is valuable for people who are unable to travel due to a financial problem or a personal situation or to get a preview of an institution.

A person could spend many hours on multiple occasions exploring the websites that I've described. New additions to the sites will very likely create more interesting things to see. Online visits to art galleries can be very enjoyable as well as educational.

References and Resources

© 2012 Linda Crampton


Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on April 18, 2015:

Thanks for the comment, Peg. The virtual art galleries are great fun to explore!

Peg Cole from North Dallas, Texas on April 18, 2015:

Making it easier to visit all the great exhibitions of art! Great information to know. I'll be checking these out.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on April 16, 2015:

Thank you very much for the visit and the comment, Thelma. I appreciate the votes, too. How wonderful that you visited the National Gallery and the Louvre in person! I would love to do the same thing. I can see that the crowds might be a problem at times, though.

Thelma Alberts from Germany on April 16, 2015:

OMG! This is awesome! I am fond of visiting museums and I have been to the National Gallery in London in the 90´s and the Louvre in the early 2000. That is great to visit those paintings again although online. The Monalisa was just a short glimpse as there were plenty of tourists in front of that painting.

Thank you very much for writing this useful and informative hub. Well done. Voted up, useful, awesome and 5 stars for this.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on February 03, 2013:

Thank you very much for the lovely comment and the congratulations, Colin! I agree with you - YouTube can be an amazing learning resource. It's so wonderful to be able to travel around the world through the Internet!

The winter has been mild here on the southwest coast of British Columbia. We've had an occasional cold day and there has been some snow, but the snow never stays for long. We get more rain than snow! Our spring usually comes early.

I hope you have a truly wonderful 2013, Colin. Best wishes to you - and I hope your spring arrives soon!

epigramman on February 03, 2013:

Good afternoon Linda from your fellow Canadian at lake erie time ontario canada 3:47pm and it's just amazing isn't it on how we can literally travel around the world (making it a global village and a much smaller world indeed) with our fingertips. And your world class presentation here has demonstrated that idea so beautifully.

I personally think You Tube is a modern wonder of the online world.

It's always so nice to hook up with you and a heartfelt congratulations on your apprenticeship alum status and wishing you sincerely continued good health , happiness and prosperity in 2013.

How has your winter been so far? Here, we've definitely had more snow and cold than last winter - and living this close to the lake always offer more in the way of wind chills too.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on December 01, 2012:

Thank you, ignugent17. It is wonderful to be able to explore art galleries from home. Being able to see great works of art from around the world is an excellent reason to use a computer!

ignugent17 on December 01, 2012:

Thanks for the magnificent tour! It is always great to admire the breath taking work of art in different galleries. It is now open to the public.

Thanks for sharing. :-)

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on November 29, 2012:

Hi, Dianna. Thanks for the visit. Yes, exploring art galleries online is a fun and relaxing activity, as well as being educational! I do it often - it's so interesting.

Dianna Mendez on November 29, 2012:

I have never thought about the abiilty to tour art galleries online. This is something new for me, I am going to have to make it a habit. What a great way to relax and to learn from the masters.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on November 27, 2012:

Thank you for the comment and the vote, drbj. It is wonderful that these websites and their online art galleries are available!

drbj and sherry from south Florida on November 27, 2012:

It's great to know, Alicia, that we can tour all these sites and enjoy the virtual art from famous galleries we may never have the opportunity to visit in person. Thanks for taking the time to enlarge our appreciation of art. Voted up!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on November 26, 2012:

Hi, Deb. Yes, these websites do provide a wonderful opportunity to explore art. The Internet can be so much fun!

Deb Hirt from Stillwater, OK on November 26, 2012:

These sound like wonderful websites. Now I can view the galleries on the comp;uter at my leisure. How good is that?

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on November 26, 2012:

Thank you for the comment and the votes, Crystal Tatum. It's nice to meet you!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on November 26, 2012:

Hi, Happyboomernurse. Thank you very much for the comment and votes! I appreciate your visit.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on November 26, 2012:

Thank you so much for the wonderful comment and for all the shares, GoodLady!!! I appreciate them all. Exploring these websites is very enjoyable. I love to do it!

Crystal Tatum from Georgia on November 26, 2012:

Well, it seems obvious now, but I never thought of touring an art gallery online. Great idea! Voted up and useful.

Gail Sobotkin from South Carolina on November 26, 2012:

What a great review of online art galleries. I've never thought to enjoy art this way, but am now eager to check out these websites.

Gave this well researched and informative review 5 stars and voted it up across the board except for funny. Thanks for sharing this information.

Penelope Hart from Rome, Italy on November 26, 2012:

I have pinned, tweeted, shared, voted and FaceBooked this useful interesting fantastic Hub. Thank you so much. I had no idea that it was possible to go on virtual tours round the so wonderful galleries, now I can enjoy myself as much as I like.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on November 26, 2012:

Hi, Natasha. Thanks for the comment. I wish I had studied art history when I was in school. It's a fascinating topic!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on November 26, 2012:

Thank you for the comment, ktrapp. I appreciate your visit. These sites do provide a fantastic way to see great art from the past. They are so interesting, and they're teaching me art history!

Natasha from Hawaii on November 26, 2012:

This is so timely for me! Tomorrow I'm teaching a lesson on Renaissance art and I was wondering how to show selected pieces to the students. Thanks!

Kristin Trapp from Illinois on November 26, 2012:

Not only did you provide a really helpful review of these four online art galleries, but you introduced me to something I didn't even know existed. What a fantastic way to see works of art when it's not possible to go in person. I am especially interested in checking out your favorite online art gallery, The National Gallery, as well as to see what Google is up to with the art project.