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Museums and the Web

An annual conference exploring the social, cultural, design, technological, economic, and organizational issues of culture, science and heritage on-line.

Your Paintings: A Nation’s Oil Paintings Go Online, Tagged by the Public

Andrew Ellis, Public Catalogue Foundation, United Kingdom; Dan Gluckman, BBC, United Kingdom; Adrian Cooper, Intelligent Heritage, United Kingdom; Andrew Greg, University of Glasgow, United Kingdom.


This paper describes Your Paintings, a partnership project between the Public Catalogue Foundation, the BBC, and some 3,000 painting collections to put the United Kingdom’s entire national collection of oil paintings online for public enjoyment, learning, and research. The public plays a key role in the project by helping to enhance the metadata for each painting through tagging the art works.

Keywords: paintings, partnership, participation, learning, tagging, nation

1.     Introduction

Your Paintings is a partnership project between the Public Catalogue Foundation (, the British Broadcasting Company (, and some 3,000 painting collections across the United Kingdom to put the nation’s entire collection of oil paintings online on one website. The purpose of the project is to open up this collection of just over 200,000 paintings for public enjoyment, learning, and research.

The UK’s collection of oil paintings offers a remarkable insight into this country’s history, topography, and culture through the eyes of artists ranging from the world-famous to the completely obscure. It encompasses a valuable and unique pre-photographic record of the UK and other parts of the world.

It is estimated that at least 80 percent of these paintings are in storage or in buildings without routine public access. Until this project started, a surprisingly large number of collections lacked a complete list of paintings with basic cataloguing information, and very few had a complete photographic record. Hardly any had a printed, comprehensive illustrated catalogue or an equivalent online.

The combination of paintings hidden from view and a substantially incomplete digital record of our oil painting heritage meant that public awareness and knowledge of these works was incomplete, and opportunities for learning and engaging the public had been missed.

The Public Catalogue Foundation (PCF), a registered charity, was founded by Fred Hohler in 2003. The PCF is funded principally by grants and donations. Less than 20 percent of its funding comes from the public sector. Its aim was to make a photographic record of the entire national collection of oil paintings in public ownership. This ten-year project will be complete this year. In 2003, the chosen publication vehicle was a series of region-by-region illustrated book catalogues, the Oil Paintings in Public Ownership series.

From early on, there was acknowledgement within the PCF that the project could only succeed if it were taken online. Deciding it could not achieve this alone, the PCF considered partnership possibilities. In 2008, it approached the BBC. The project had a lot of resonance for the BBC in its role as the UK’s principal public service broadcaster, as a key supporter of the UK arts sector, and as a major supporter of the creation of a digital public space. The collection of paintings to be revealed would unlock the story of the nation and appeal not just to art lovers but also to a wide range of other interests, from history to fashion. It would be truly national, with paintings from galleries and collections in every part of the UK, featuring every part of the UK.

PCF stakeholder support for taking the PCF project online was strong. In 2009, the PCF surveyed 160 collections participating in the project. Survey findings showed strong support for the value of the PCF’s work and its plans to go online. There was also approbation from potential PCF funders, particularly in the public sector and amongst the large grant-giving trusts.

In 2009, the BBC commissioned an audience survey to gauge the likely mainstream appetite for a website of the nation’s oil paintings. The concept was well received. Audiences responded enthusiastically to the idea of a national collection that belonged to them and were excited by the idea of seeing paintings that were not on public display. As one person put it, “It’s like discovering a hidden treasure in the attic.” However, the survey work did identify that there would be challenges in building a large audience that regularly used the site. It also suggested that some of the audience had significant negative associations with oil paintings, although there were approaches that could address some of these issues.

Planning work on Your Paintings commenced in 2009. A division of labour was quickly established between the parties. The PCF would be responsible for completing the painting digitization programme, managing the database of painting records, and enhancing the basic painting metadata that the PCF had been collating from collections. The latter project, aimed at improving the searchability of the website, evolved into the Your Paintings Tagger project. The BBC would be responsible for building the Your Paintings website and hosting this on It was agreed that no money would exchange hands between the PCF and the BBC.

The Your Paintings website and Your Paintings Tagger were launched at the National Gallery London in June 2011 with an initial 63,000 paintings. As of end January 2012, there were 110,000 paintings on the Your Paintings site. Traffic to the site in the first six months was around 100,000 unique browsers per month, although this is expected to grow as awareness increases.

It is expected that the entire national collection of just over 205,000 oil paintings will be on the site by December 2012. Approximately 3,000 collections will have participated in the project, with works by approximately 40,000 artists.

2.     The national oil painting collection

The principal focus of the project is oil paintings. However, tempera, acrylic, and mixed media, where one of these media is the main constituent, are also included. Henceforward, “oil painting” is taken to include the other media noted above.

The national collection of oil paintings has been defined to include works owned by state and local authorities together with those held in charitable trusts for the benefit of the public. Whilst museums make up the vast majority of collections participating in the project, paintings held by universities, hospitals, town halls, local libraries, and other civic buildings are also included. Generally, the PCF’s approach has been to be inclusive in order that the database of paintings is as useful as possible.

Figure 1: Painting by William Hogarth from a London Hospital

All the collections of the national museums are included, such as those of Tate, National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, National Museums Wales, and the National Galleries of Scotland. However, local authority museums and those museums with trust status make up the vast majority of the museums.

The largest collection will be that of the National Trust ( with approximately 12,500 works. At the other end of spectrum, there are a substantial number of collections (probably over 40 percent of all collections) with ten or fewer paintings.

As long as paintings meet the requirements above, all paintings are included irrespective of their condition and perceived quality.

Participation rates in the project have been very high. The PCF estimates that participation by museums is close to 99 percent by institution. Only a handful of universities have refused to participate. Participation by local authority, non-museum collections (such as town halls and libraries) is extremely high (probably over 95 percent). Participation by hospitals is lower but still estimated at over 80 percent. 

3.     The PCF digitisation project

The digitization programme involves two project teams. The first is the Field Team, comprising pairs of freelance researchers and photographers working together across the country. Central to this approach was the decision at the start of the project to divide the country into counties or regions (or sometimes single large collections) that had between 1,000 and 3,000 paintings. This was considered to be a reasonable number of paintings for a two-person team (researcher and photographer) to undertake over a twelve- to eighteen-month period.

The second team is the Editorial and Production Team based in London, which is responsible for processing the images and data that are sent in from the field, clearing copyright, and ensuring that the images and data are ready to be put online.

Painting metadata is typically collected on a Microsoft Excel template filled in by collections. The accuracy of the painting data is entirely the responsibility of the respective collections. Researchers are responsible for ensuring the data collected is as complete as possible and edited to house style. Once the data and images have been checked, they are sent to the Editorial and Production Team in London.

Photography is completed by freelance fine-art photographers. Paintings are photographed glazed and framed. The photographers are responsible for colour correction and Adobe Photoshop work where required (mainly cropping frames). PCF photographers typically shoot 50 to 100 paintings a day.

Figure 2: PCF Photographer Norman Taylor at work in North Yorkshire

Once in London, the data and images are imported into the PCF’s in-house database, referred to internally as PIMS. Paper proofs are generated for the collections to check. The copyright clearance process is described below.

The benefits to participating collections are considerable. They receive free digital images. In most cases, these are at 25 to 30 megabytes at 300 dots per inch. The project gives many collections the first comprehensive photographic record of their paintings. For many collections, Your Paintings represents the only online database of their painting records. The cataloguing process gives collections an opportunity to knock cataloguing records into shape. Finally, the collection records and images (subject to collection permissions) are passed to the Art Loss Register (, thereby raising the chances of painting recovery if paintings were ever to be stolen.

The PCF and BBC will ensure that data on the site is as up to date as possible. The system for updating Your Paintings will be finalised in the first half of 2012. It is likely that this will comprise two approaches. For smaller collections where the changes are likely to be minor, an annual email from the PCF will request updates to the data, which will be communicated in spreadsheet form. For larger collections, we are considering a form of automatic data harvesting either directly to the PCF or through Collections Trust’s Culture Grid (

4.     Metadata enhancement: Your Paintings Tagger

The challenge

The standard painting metadata template filled in by participating collections provides the PCF with basic information about a work, including artist, title, dimensions, and medium. Early in the project it was decided that the PCF’s requests for metadata needed to reflect the realities of what would be available from most collections.

In the early days of discussions between the PCF and BBC about taking the project online, the narrow range of available metadata from the participating collections was acknowledged as a potential drawback in searching a database of ultimately 200,000 objects. The PCF was charged with solving this challenge. The resolution would need to meet the requirements of both the mainstream audience as well as that of learners and scholars. The PCF requested help from two university art history departments: Oxford and Glasgow.

All parties were aware of the existing systems such as Iconclass (, for classifying subjects in works of art. The initial scoping study was undertaken, and the first terminology set was created by Dr. Aimee Blackledge and Dr. Gervase Rosser at University of Oxford. One of the most useful outcomes of this work was the recognition of the need to include sets of more abstract terms and concepts that would both broaden the scope of the term set and reflect more contemporary approaches to art history.

From the other end of the academic-populist spectrum, the BBC commissioned from the user-centred design consultants, Flow Interactive (, research into the way potential users of the Your Paintings website would describe the subject matter of a representative range of paintings and how they would search for images online. Oxford’s work was taken over by staff in the History of Art Department at Glasgow University who worked with Flow Interactive to marry the two approaches.

A proposal for the additional data requirement was agreed to between the PCF, BBC, and Glasgow University. The proposal document was then sent to a large selection of large and small UK painting collections, as well as a few university art history departments, for input and suggested improvements.

The crowd-sourcing tagging methodology

The big question that remained was the way in which the content descriptors for 200,000 paintings were to be created. It was obvious that the PCF could not afford to pay expert fine-art cataloguers to systematically describe all these 200,000 paintings and that some sort of voluntary tagging system would have to be devised. We looked at Mechanical Turk and other crowd-sourcing technologies. The most encouraging, indeed most inspiring, of these was Galaxy Zoo (, now an archived project of the Citizen Science Alliance (

The statistical principle behind the Your Paintings Tagger, derived from that of Galaxy Zoo, is that taggers are given the opportunity of an online tutorial and are then presented with random images that they tag with their own terms and with defined options presented to them. Taggers cannot select which paintings they tag and are never given the same paintings twice. Tags selected for adoption by the project are those that have reached a threshold by having been independently selected by a defined number of taggers. The thresholds were based on the results of a large-scale pilot and later amended as a result of the early results after going live in June 2011. The process is intended to be entirely automated, with tags that reach the thresholds being automatically adopted and those that don’t being discarded. There are a few carefully defined scenarios where ambiguous results (such as the identification of multiple portrait sitters) are submitted to a panel of “supervisors” who arbitrate and whose decision is final. Tagging quality is regularly monitored by project staff.

Figure 3: Your Paintings Tagger home page

The use of a crowd-sourcing technique for the tagging had some influence on the tasks that could be carried out. An early and rather complex hierarchy of tagging tasks and associated groups of participants was simplified to two groups: public taggers, open to anyone, who would describe the pictorial content of paintings; and “expert taggers,” approved on the basis of submitted evidence, who would deal with two other priority tasks (see below).

The descriptive metadata classification

The public tasks were those that could be carried out without any art historical knowledge but would accurately reflect the priorities and interests of the end users. This required some careful thought about user needs. The PCF and Glasgow University decided to combine a free-text tagging opportunity (of terms, places, people, and events) with a more structured schema of fixed lists of options to choose from (subject categories and types of paintings).

With the free use of terms, taggers can use their own judgement as to what is the significant pictorial content of any given painting, whether objects or ideas. Names are entered separately. Ordinary words are checked against a version of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) to rationalise spellings, although users can override the OED; names, places, and events are checked against DBpedia, again to rationalise and disambiguate.

Figure 4: Your Paintings Tagger: Entering key words

Alongside the free-text tagging, we wanted to use two structured lists: firstly, the traditional genres of paintings, which we call “types” (portrait, still life, landscape, abstract, etc.); and, secondly, more objective, non-specialist concepts of subject matter categorisations. The latter became a structured subject categorisation in two hierarchical levels. The list of types was restricted to genres that did not overlap in a potentially confusing way with the subject categorisations.

Other kinds of information considered most valuable for end users of Your Paintings included the dating of undated paintings, which make up a proportion of the PCF’s database, and the categorisation of paintings by “style and movements.” These tasks obviously require art-history expertise, but again we believe we can achieve reliable results by manually selecting the taggers (through a simple online form) and subjecting the results to statistical thresholds. Although a lay assumption had been that all paintings could be allocated to a style or movement, it was finally agreed that Glasgow University would begin by creating a selective list of styles and movements, and associating selected artists to one or more of these styles and movements. The tagging task was then to select which, if any, paintings by the selected artists could be appropriately allocated to the styles and movements associated with them.

The project to design and build Tagger was awarded to Keepthinking (, which had already worked for the PCF in the past and was responsible for building the PIMS database. It was agreed that Arfon Smith of Citizen Science Alliance (CSA) would advise the project and supply the threshold logic to the back-end CSA database. Adrian Cooper of Intelligent Heritage ( acted as project manager.

Tagging in practice

It is still early days for Your Paintings Tagger (—we are continuing to analyse processes and results and will continue to tweak the system (particularly the thresholds) to ensure it is both an effective and useful way to create and deliver a wealth of additional useful metadata to a mainstream audience. Whilst the number of Taggers is lower than initially expected (and considerably lower than the numbers joining the Galaxy Zoo projects), overall the quality of the results is viewed as impressive. Furthermore, user feedback is enthusiastic, with many taggers highlighting the satisfaction that comes with looking at paintings for longer. The first tags (for between 5,000 and 10,000 paintings) will join the Your Paintings site in March or April. In the meantime, the subject-search facility on the Your Paintings site is based on painting title words.

For more details on the design of Your Paintings Tagger, see Greg (2011).

5.     Your Paintings website key features

A key design requirement was that the site should appeal to both a “mainstream” and a “learner” audience. Whilst Your Paintings was not to be designed specifically for scholarly use, it was agreed that researchers would be an important user group. The need to allow such users to dig deeper for more detailed information or links was acknowledged.

Figure 5: Your Paintings home page

A key feature of the site was that it would be the online home for paintings from 3,000 participating collections. An important project aim was to highlight the owner collections and encourage onward online traffic to participating collections’ websites and, indeed, physical visits to the collections. Therefore, individual painting pages feature clearly branded attributions to the owning collection and prominent links back to that collection’s own website and where it exists, ensuring users clearly understand where the painting is from, can get more detailed expert information (where available), and can find out about whether they can see the real object and where it is (with the help of a map). In addition, there are links back to collections’ own print-on-demand services or those provided on their behalf by the PCF.

There are a few basic key routes to find material of interest. First, one can find paintings by a particular artist. This allows one to watch a slideshow of artists’ works across the country. Each artist has his or her own page with a relevant BBC TV archive and further links where appropriate.

Figure 6: Your Paintings: An artist page

Secondly, one can view paintings by collection listed by county. In due course, users will be able to search paintings by postcode. A challenging part of the project modelling was to allow users to see constituent collections within an umbrella collection (for example, Glasgow Museums has ten constituent collections or locations as we call them) and view those paintings that are held at the constituent collections (a real challenge as paintings are often moved between collections). Explaining to users that paintings may not be on show on a particular day at collections is a key aspect of the “visitor statements” that are provided by participating collections.

The third route to material is by painting title or subject matter. In due course, as metadata from Tagger is added to the site, one will be able to find paintings by style and movement, subject categories, key words, types of paintings, and painting execution dates.

An alternative way to see works is to watch the Guided Tours produced by the BBC. Here, scholars, artists, and BBC presenters introduce the public to a selection of ten paintings on a theme through a narrated audio tour.

Figure 7: Your Paintings: Guided Tours

New features and content will be added to the site over the next six months. This will include the ability to create one’s own collections on the site. The PCF is also in discussions with a third party to introduce to the site short authoritative biographies of a number of the artists.

6.     What the BBC brings to the project

The power of the Internet to unlock the large part of the nation’s oil painting collection that is hidden away was critical to the BBC’s decision to become involved in the project. The BBC is keen to work in partnership with cultural organisations from across the UK. This project gave them the opportunity to do that. The BBC brings considerable experience of creating content and building online products for mainstream audiences, with a strong emphasis on user experience and user-centric design. This project allowed the BBC to make a wider audience aware of its cultural heritage. And aggregating these paintings in one place makes the site an unparalleled educational resource for all levels of learner.

The BBC has a unique ability to reach the general public in the UK—through TV channels, national and local radio networks, programmes, and online. In partnering with the PCF on the Your Paintings project, the BBC’s aim has been to utilise this reach to grow public interest in these paintings and bring new audiences to the galleries they belong to, and the arts more generally.

This was in strong evidence when the project launched in June 2011. The launch of Your Paintings was a key element of a visual arts season on the BBC, and was strongly promoted on BBC TV. The BBC’s top arts TV presenters created their online Guided Tours to the collection that tied in with series they were presenting. Almost every local BBC news website in the country carried a story about a painting or paintings from their area. There was coverage on local BBC TV and radio, including a series of programmes broadcast about Hidden Paintings. Further promotion online and on air will take place where there is a close editorial alignment

The BBC’s archive of TV and radio programmes relating to art is very significant. A selection of TV archive material is already available to view on the site and typically appears on the artist pages. More will be added when copyright on this material can be cleared cost effectively.

7.     Intellectual property rights

The PCF is responsible for securing permissions to reproduce images on the Your Paintings website. Publication of painting images on the Your Paintings website requires two permissions. The first permission is from the collections that own the paintings and the photograph rights (the PCF assigns rights in PCF painting photographs to the owner collections). The rights to reproduce the images on the Your Paintings website are contractually agreed with the collections through a Collection Cataloguing Agreement that details image-size reproduction and usage rights.

The second permission is from artists, artists’ estates, or their representative agents where the painting is still in copyright (in the UK for the life of the creator plus 70 years from the end of the year in which he/she died). The PCF Copyright Team is responsible for identifying paintings in copyright, tracing the rights’ owners, and clearing copyright with them. As with securing image-reproduction permissions from the collections, the PCF signs a Copyright Consent Agreement with artists and estates to cover web reproduction rights, again with details covering image size and restrictions on usage. The response to requests from artists and estates for gratis reproduction rights has been very positive, with few artists excluded from the site.  

The image usage rights that have been secured from the collections and artists/estates reflect the generally conservative nature of both sets of constituents. In short, images may be reproduced for non-commercial research and private study purposes.  All images on the site are shown at 72 dots per inch and protected with a secure invisible digital watermark provided by Digimarc that allows the Public Catalogue Foundation to identify unauthorized use of the image. Painting and image copyright information is embedded in the image to IPTC standards.

8.     Technical summary

Figure 8: Your Paintings project high-level systems overview


The PCF is responsible for gathering, editing, and storing all collection-based data and images.  PIMS is the central collections database and the single point of authority for all collection-related data.

PIMS is a bespoke, web-based collections management system and was developed by Keepthinking ( following a competitive tender process and based on a specification developed by the PCF and Intelligent Heritage ( PIMS uses a standard LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP) stack and resides on a dedicated, hosted web server. A core advantage of the web-based approach is that PCF staff and authorised partners can access the database online.

Data management

PIMS facilitates management of a number of key record types—paintings, artists, collections, groups of collections (catalogues), locations, and contacts. Painting records are based on the Getty Categories for the Description of Works of Art schema with additional fields to allow for project-specific content and workflows. All data-entry forms are easily reconfigurable.

A unique record is held for each artist. Artist management in PIMS is fully integrated with Getty’s Union List of Artist Names (ULAN). ULAN and DBpedia IDs are stored for artists where relevant or known.

Paintings, collection, and location data are received from the participating collections using a range of Excel templates. PIMS supports a number of import routines so that PCF staff can load new or updated content into PIMS. Import routines automatically link to existing records (where they exist) and create new records as necessary. PIMS includes a comprehensive audit log, and this is used to allow PCF staff to review and sign-off all pending records.

Rights management

Managing copyright status and rights in/rights out is a vital part of PCF work. All participating collection and artist contractual details are stored in PIMS, and the system allows the PCF copyright team to record specific inclusions/exclusions at collection, artist, and painting levels.

Image management

PIMS has been designed to support a range of image-management workflows. As well as images for each painting, the PCF needs to manage collection logos and location photographs.

The PCF image-management team receives painting images from PCF photographers and, following proofing and any correction, they upload a PCF master image (high-quality lossless JPEG) for each painting to the PIMS web server. Images loaded to the server are automatically resized and linked to painting records. Additional image workflows include embedding invisible digital watermarks and adding a comprehensive IPTC header to each file.

BBC Application Programming Interface (API)

From the outset, PIMS was designed to deliver data and images to third parties—the main one being the BBC. The PCF, Keepthinking, and the BBC worked together to allow for a range of different record types to be made available via a RESTful web service API. API is an architecture that uses standard HTTP protocols (such as GET  and POST) to transfer requests and data between client and server. Requests are made using URIs (e.g. .../work/reference/a-painting-1234), and data is formatted in XML or JSON (Javascript Object Notation). The API supported a URL structure that linked to the Your Paintings site.

The initial plan was to use the API to pull the PCF painting data into Your Paintings dynamically. However, the BBC operations team felt it was prudent to store the data locally. This reduced any risks for the Your Paintings site on (and knock-on effects on other BBC sites) from technology failure, load, or breaches of information security that might be caused by an API to an external database. As such, the API is now used periodically (about every four weeks) to synchronise the approved painting/collection/location records to a BBC internal database (a MySQL triple store).

PIMS maintains a number of flags and workflows to select edited/approved content for synchronisation to the BBC. Records are selected by “catalogue” (normally a UK county) and then “deselected” if necessary by collection or specific painting, depending on rights clearances.

API records include image references for paintings, collections logos, and location photos. The image filename references are designed to match images that have been loaded to a BBC image server stack. Images for paintings, collections, and locations are currently loaded to the BBC image servers using file transfer protocol. We are currently investigating using rsync (a way to synchronise data between two locations that reduces the amount of data that needs to be transferred) to allow image resources to be mirrored automatically.

Your Paintings Tagger

The Your Paintings Tagger application uses data drawn from two sources (the Tagger database and the CSA database) hosted with Amazon Elastic Cloud Compute (Amazon EC2) services. PCF decided to use Amazon EC2 in order to be able to respond to demand through dynamic resizing of the server/service capacity as necessary. Images for the paintings are served from Amazon S3.

At any time, painting records from a range of catalogues chosen by PCF staff are made available to the Tagger database. The painting records are automatically copied to the Tagger database and (using a Tagger API endpoint) core painting information is retrieved and stored in the CSA database within the Amazon stack.

The CSA database and associated logic is used to determine which random painting should be served to Taggers. Tag results for each user/painting/workflow are also stored in the CSA database.

Once a painting has reached the agreed thresholds for each workflow, the record is assigned a “completed” or “for review” status. Tags (and associated data such as DBpedia IDs) for these painting are subsequently imported into PIMS for final review and sign-off by the PCF and the Tagger Supervisory team.

9.     Building digital public space

The BBC has a strong commitment to digital public space and an ambition, in the words of Jake Berger, the BBC Programme Manager for the Digital Space Project,

to create an online space in which much of the UK’s publicly-held cultural and heritage media assets and data could be found - connected together, searchable, machine-readable, open, accessible, visible and usable in a way that allows individuals, institutions and machines to add additional material, meaning and context to each other’s media, indexed and tagged to the highest level of detail. (BBC, 2011)

Your Paintings is one of the clearest and most practical examples of this ambition. The BBC and PCF want it to be much more than just a standalone website. This is a project rooted in a vision of the interconnected nature of online cultural resources, and our ambition is be compatible with, and linked into, as wide a range of other related resources and initiatives as possible. To deliver this vision, the project has been built on the principle of open, linked, semantic data and uses a range of technologies to enable easy linking and data interchange.

API and widgets

The BBC and PCF are now working with partner collections to investigate the provision of an API to the service, or widgets that use the underlying data. One proposal would allow participating collections to employ a closed API, letting them reuse low-resolution images and data from other collections in the API. It would also give collections the opportunity to use the Tagger-created metadata and to put links to the Your Paintings BBC TV archive on their own websites.

There are many complexities to be worked out involving intellectual property rights belonging to collections and artists, but in principle we hope to make as much data as possible available. To support this, over the last eighteen months the PCF has been seeking permission from participating collections to share data and links to images through Collection Trust’s Culture Grid with wider cultural networks such as Europeana.

The intention is that Your Paintings becomes a valuable platform that contributes to the sector by supporting innovation and enabling creativity and collaboration among participating institutions, and more widely.

Oil Painting Expert Network (OPEN)

In this vein, the PCF is planning to set up the Oil Painting Expert Network (OPEN), using its database of 200,000 painting records as the starting framework. Over the last nine years the PCF’s team of researchers has had unparalleled access to the nation’s oil painting collection. This has provided valuable insights into the state of painting catalogue records and the guardianship of these paintings. Unsurprisingly, it has found that the state of the records varies greatly among collections, and that there are significant gaps in knowledge about paintings’ artists, subjects, and execution dates. 

There are a few reasons for this. Only a fraction of the participating collections have staff with fine-art expertise or other relevant knowledge. The PCF has also found that those collections without expertise often do not know where to turn for help.

The aim of OPEN is to provide oil painting collections around the United Kingdom with access to a managed network of pro bono expertise drawn from both the public and private sectors. The result will be an improved understanding of our national oil painting collection for all to share. Contact for more information.

10.  References

BBC. (2011, October 14). “Digital Public Space: Turning a big idea into a big thing.” BBC Internet Blog. Available at:

Greg, A. (2011). “Your Paintings: Public Access and Public Tagging.” Journal of the Scottish Society of Art History, 16, 48–52.

Public Catalogue Foundation. (2004—). “Oil Paintings in Public Ownership.” Series of county-by-county printed catalogues.