Google’s Art Project

Posted on February 2, 2011

Art Project (which was launched yesterday) is a resource for examining high (and I really mean HIGH) definition photographs of paintings. The selection of museums and artworks is limited for now, with very little works past 1914 shown, except from the Museum Kampa, Prague. However, it is still wonderful to be able to examine the brushstrokes and color work of artists such as Seurat, Cezanne and Van Gogh, not to mention Vermeer, Caravaggio and Rembrandt, without being chased away by the museum docents for getting ‘too close’!

Why is there a difference between the museums in terms of the number of galleries, artworks and related information?

Google approached the museum partners without any curatorial direction, and each museum was able to chose the number of galleries, artwork and information they wanted to include, based on reasons specific to them. All content in the information panel pertaining to individual artworks was also provided by the museums.

The museums included in the site are all big names and are spread across the US and Europe – see the quoted list below. It is possible to navigate around the museums using the Google Streetview technology, but I preferred selecting individual works. Just as with StreetView or Google Maps the high resolution images take a moment to load each time the zoom changes, but I’m on a Wi-Fi connection and I did not find the wait times too long. My favorite way to navigate was by museum or ‘More works by this artist’, which lists all the artwork on the site from that artist.

For now the following museums are included in the project:

  • Alte Nationalgalerie, Berlin – Germany
  • Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian, Washington DC – USA
  • The Frick Collection, NYC – USA
  • Gemäldegalerie, Berlin – Germany
  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC – USA
  • MoMA, The Museum of Modern Art, NYC – USA
  • Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid – Spain
  • Museo Thyssen – Bornemisza, Madrid – Spain
  • Museum Kampa, Prague – Czech Republic
  • National Gallery, London – UK
  • Palace of Versailles – France
  • Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam – The Netherlands
  • The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg – Russia
  • State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow – Russia
  • Tate Britain, London – UK
  • Uffizi Gallery, Florence – Italy
  • Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam – The Netherlands

The Home page gives some information about the selection of artworks in the project, a video about using the site and a really interesting video showing the work that went into obtaining these photographs.

I hope that this site is expanded in the future as I can see it being a very valuable resource, for teachers, for artists and for art lovers. Will it reduce museum attendance? I don’t believe so, no more than books of high quality images do. It is impossible to replicate the sensation of being in front of the real painting: the size and scale compared to your self is a real factor in how a painting ‘feels’. On the screen Vermeer’s jewel of a painting, The Milkmaid (45.5cm x 41cm), is the same size as Rembrandt’s Night Watch (363cm x 437cm), despite the later being nearly 10 times its size! Texture or smoothness of the paint is also a part of the viewing experience for me – although I can see Van Gogh’s brushwork on the screen I cannot see the texture as well as on the real painting.

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