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July, 2000

Great Art Museums Online
By Joseph Phelan
 
 
Iris, Vincent van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh
Iris, 1889
purchased 1954
©National Gallery of
Canada, Ottawa, 2000


      This month I focus on the improved state of art museums and collections on the web.

When the major art collections came online a few years back they offered a minimum of images, lots of visitor information, and the inevitable sales shops. Within the past year most museum sites have made an amazingly conscientious effort to digitalize their collections providing high resolution images which can be studied in detail, online educational materials and exhibits, and access to rarely exhibited treasures (too fragile to be exposed to light or the public).

The name of the game is exploring on your own. That's what art on the net is all about. With these sites you can find yourself gazing lovingly at a painting by an artist nobody ever told you about or immersing yourself in the unfamiliar work by a much loved artist.

Here are some of the serious and exciting sites which I enjoy surfing at least once a week.

1. Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Metropolitan is the Queen of North American art museums. With over 20 permanent departments beginning with Ancient Egypt through all stages of European art to the present, as well as covering Islam, Asia, and the Americas, the Met is much more than a collection of European paintings. In fact, the Met is one of the shining examples of an institution based on principles of high multiculturalism.

The permanent departments are represented by 3,500 reproductions of works of art. And The Met calls this is the first installment of what is expected to be a comprehensive visual catalog.

There is a director's tour of 25 objects representing highlights from the key departments. Or you can begin with any of the 21 collections choosing up to 50 items to view per collection. European painting, all 2,000 pieces, is completely accessible.

The images appear as thumbnails which can be enlarged, and the fine details studied with zoom capacity for most pieces. The image quality is good (though not up to the high definition standards of IBM's work for Hermitage or National Gallery in Washington). The notes accompanying the work are said to be newly written for the site. Through one of its special features the Met provides storage space for saving images you like.

Educational materials are extensive and located in four separate departments and libraries. Explore and Learn is the place to begin for online adult and family educational needs as it tends to be drawn from current or past exhibits.

There is a site wide search function but it isn't the easiest one I've seen. You may find it easier to use Artcyclopedia to search for paintings. (Note that there are quite a few black and white photos of the earlier paintings and Artcyclopedia does not index these.) Surprisingly for an institution that prides itself on its great traditions, there is no history of the museum to be found online. All in all a splendid example of the seriousness and vitality of the history of art on the net.

If, as Thomas Hoving says, the best way to see the Met is to nibble on it for twenty minutes a day every day of the year taking in two or three sublime objects, then this web site seems designed for just such a regimen.

2. National Gallery of Canada

Cybermuse, a fancy site within the site which requires registration and takes its time to download, may seem like a pain to work with but it is worth the effort. Cybermuse moves the National into the 21st century with high resolution images of many of the works of art in this first rate collection. It can be searched by artist, theme or gallery. I recommend you use broad categories like "Italian painting" to flush out what is there.

Be sure to check out the Cybermuse favorites section where works by Monet, Pissarro and van Gogh are found. It also includes clever and informative Quick Time movies on these painters.

      The Jack Pine, Tom Thomson
Tom Thomson
The Jack Pine, 1916-17
purchased 1918
©National Gallery of
Canada, Ottawa, 2000

3. The Prado Museum

For those who love the Spanish masters Goya and Velázquez, or the Flemish giants Bosch, Bruegel and Rubens, or the great Italians like Titian, the Prado is the museum. Yet it is at the same time one of the greatest art museums (containing over 20,000 works of sculpture, painting and drawing) and one of the least satisfactory (only 1,200 paintings are on view in the real site). This website is a potential solution but has a long way to go getting these objects online.

Nevertheless, what is online is first rate. Two features worth exploring: Looking at Art is a monthly discussion of one painting from the collection, with an analytical diagram and short commentary. Visits includes another group of 35 masterpieces (there is a good deal of overlapping here). No zoom function. Detailed Search engine available for paintings only. Good history of the museum. A few free virtual postcards are now available including some favorites.

4. National Gallery of Art in London

This extraordinary collection which represents the whole history of European painting is now virtually completely online. But there are a number of bugs which they need to fix. Don't be discouraged by results of simple searches that seem twisted.

There are a number of tricks which will assist you searching this site. One is to use some broad search themes like altarpieces, landscape, still life, religious paintings, angels, etc. These will work and will produce the results you are looking for.

Also hidden from view are the equivalent of three CD's produced in previous years by the Gallery of three of their greatest treasures: Eyck's Arnolfini Portrait, Renoir's The Umbrellas and Botticelli's Mystical Nativity. To access these exhibits, go to the Exploring Paintings section.

There is also a Eurosearch function which allows you to search the Louvre, Hermitage, Van Gogh Museum, Mauritshuis and a few other web sites.

And you can download the whole catalog of their latest exhibit, Encounters: New Art from Old, which presents us with the reflections of contemporary masters such as Balthus, Bill Viola, Francesco Clemente, Lucian Freud, David Hockney among others as in the process of creating works inspired by paintings in the permanent collection. Truly an event in the world of art.

Be patient with this site it will eventually be a wonderful source of pleasure and enlightenment.

5. The Tate Galleries

North Americans used to be the masters of the blockbuster: now watch the British beat us at our own game. The Tate Britain is the greatest collection of British art in the world and the Tate Modern is England's greatest collection of modern art. The online images have reached a fantastic 8,000 with 500 being added each week out of a total of 25,000.

This means all of Turner's work will be online by next year including the rarely exhibited drawings and watercolors. There is more art here than on any of the other sites -- much more than you would ever see if you went in person to the Tate for a year.


 
This article is copyright 2000 by Joseph Phelan. Please do not republish any portion of this article without written permission.

Joseph Phelan can be contacted at joe.phelan@verizon.net



Previous Features
  June, 2000
Landscape
Article: Venetian Painting and the Rise of Landscape
  May, 2000
Mythology in Art
Article: Forbidden Visions: Mythology in Art
  April, 2000
Art and Religion
Article: Themes in Art: The Passion of Christ
Exhibit: Christus Rex
  March, 2000
Inuit Art/The National Gallery of Art in Washington
Museum: National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Exhibit: Inuit Art: The World Around Me
  February, 2000
Poll: Who is Producing the Most Interesting Art Today? (Results)
  January, 2000
Poll: Who is Producing the Most Interesting Art Today? (Part II)
  December, 1999
Poll: Who is Producing the Most Interesting Art Today? (Part I)
  November, 1999
The Louvre Museum
Artist: Albrecht Dürer
Museum: The Louvre
Book: Paintings in the Louvre
Print: Study of a Horse's Head, by Pisanello
  October, 1999
Impressionism
Artist: Claude Monet
Museum: North Carolina Museum of Art
Exhibit: Monet: O Mestre do Impressionismo
Book: Impressionists in Winter: Effets de Neige
Print: Nympheas avec Effets de Nuage, by Claude Monet
  September, 1999
Optical Art
Artist: M.C. Escher
Museum: The Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, Ohio
Exhibit: Trompe l'oeil: The Art of Deception
Book: M.C. Escher: His Life and Complete Graphic Work
Print: Movement In Squares, by Bridget Riley
  August, 1999
Animals in Art
Artist: Antoine-Louis Barye
Museum: National Museum of Wildlife Art, Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Exhibit: PBS: American Visions
Book: Natural Worlds, by Robert Bateman
Print: A la Bodiniere, by Théophile Steinlen
  July, 1999
Surrealism
Artist: Odd Nerdrum
Museum: Museum of Modern Art, New York
Exhibit: Virtuo Official Magritte Site
Book: Mystery of Magritte CD-ROM
Print: Santiago El Grande, by Salvador Dalí
  June, 1999
Sculpture
Artist: Audrey Flack
Museum: Carol Gerten's Fine Art
Exhibit: Michael Lucero: Sculpture 1976-1995
Book: Anish Kapoor
Print: Cupid And Psyche, by Antonio Canova
  May, 1999
Women in the Arts
Artist: Georgia O'Keeffe
Museum: National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington D.C.
Exhibit: Jenny Holzer: Please Change Beliefs
Book: Cindy Sherman: Retrospective
Print: Self-Portrait with Monkeys, by Frida Kahlo
  April, 1999
The Golden Age of Illustration
Artist: Maxfield Parrish
Museum: Fine Arts Museums Of San Francisco
Exhibit: Treasure Island and Robinson Crusoe online
Books: Treasure Island and Robinson Crusoe
Print: Cinderella (Enchantment), by Maxfield Parrish
  March, 1999
Vincent van Gogh
Artist: Vincent van Gogh
Museum: Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
Exhibit: The Vincent van Gogh Information Gallery
Book: Van Gogh's Van Goghs
Print: Terrasse de Cafe
  February, 1999
Great Art
Artist: Leonardo da Vinci
Museum: The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia
Exhibit: John Singleton Copley: Watson and the Shark
Book: The Sistine Chapel: A Glorious Restoration
Print: L'Astronomia, by Raphael



 
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