The BBC and The Public catalogue foundation have just released the first 63,000 artworks of an epic six year project to catalogue and make available online the 200,000 paintings that belong to the nation.
The project will open up access to public owned works that may be held by museums and not be on display or be in offices, town halls, schools, hospitals and even a lighthouse. The aim is to have an image of each piece as well as a description about the work. The site also includes collections held by national organisations such the National Trust, English Heritage, the Government Art Collection and Arts Council England.
The collection includes works by some of the greatest painters of the last 700 years including Francis Bacon, John Constable, Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol to name but a few, 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.
The public is also being encouraged to get involved in the project with a tagging project open to all. In order to help analysis and searching of the collection the public can go online and tag what they can see in the paintings.
Despite the huge scale of the task the project is focusing on paintings only in either oil, tempera, or acrylic. If they were to include watercolours and drawings the number of items would stretch in to the millions.
The Government Art Collection has also just launched a series of exhibitions of its holding at the Whitechapel art gallery. Read our review here.
This is just one of any projects worldwide that are utilising the internet to improve our access to art. Google has recently launched Art Project, which applies its Streetview approach to the world's most famous galleries. This allows users to take a virtual stroll around the likes of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam or New York's MoMA.