LA County Museum (LACMA) Makes 20,000 Artistic Images Available for Free Download

Lincoln Cathedral

The Los Ange­les Coun­ty Muse­um of Art hous­es the largest Amer­i­can col­lec­tion of art west of Chica­go. Devel­oped as an “ency­clo­pe­dic” museum—its col­lec­tions rep­re­sent near­ly every human civ­i­liza­tion since record­ed time—LACMA’s eclec­tic hold­ings span from art of the ancient world to video instal­la­tions. Like all great pub­lic col­lec­tions, LACMA sees its mis­sion as pro­vid­ing the great­est pos­si­ble access to the widest range of art.

Two years ago LACMA made a rel­a­tive­ly small num­ber of its image hold­ings avail­able for free down­load in an online library. From that begin­ning of 2,000 images, the muse­um recent­ly expand­ed its down­load­able col­lec­tion by ten-fold, mak­ing 20,000 images of art­work avail­able for free.

This rep­re­sents about a quar­ter of all the art rep­re­sent­ed on LACMA’s site. They’ve cho­sen images of art­works the muse­um believes to be in the pub­lic domain and devel­oped a robust dig­i­tal archive with a rich­er search func­tion than most muse­ums.

LACMA’s online col­lec­tion (80,000 images alto­geth­er, includ­ing restrict­ed use and unre­strict­ed) is sort­ed by the usu­al cura­to­r­i­al terms (“Amer­i­can Art,” “Art of the Pacif­ic” and so on) but that’s just one of many fil­ter­ing options.

A search for works relat­ed to the word “ros­es” can be done as a gen­er­al search of all objects, turn­ing up, among 268 oth­er items, Toulouse-Lautrec’s Mlle Mar­celle Lender. This item hap­pens to be avail­able for free down­load. (Note the bloom in the Madamoiselle’s cleav­age to see why the image turned up in this search.)

But the col­lec­tion can be searched more nar­row­ly by object type and cura­to­r­i­al area. There’s also a cool option to search by what’s on view now right now. This choice allows users to zero in on a spe­cif­ic build­ing or floor of the museum’s eight build­ings. The col­lec­tion can also be entered accord­ing to chrono­log­i­cal era, from 10,000 BCE to the present day.


This is impor­tant for the pub­lic, but even more so for stu­dents and edu­ca­tors. Nine years ago East­man Kodak stopped pro­duc­ing slide pro­jec­tors. Since then the task of assem­bling qual­i­ty images for the study of art his­to­ry has become hope­less­ly daunt­ing, with teach­ers and stu­dents search­ing a myr­i­ad web­sites to cre­ate dig­i­tal “carousels” for class or study.

For what­ev­er rea­son, in an age over-abun­dant with high res­o­lu­tion images of near­ly every­thing, pic­tures of art itself are scat­tered and expen­sive.

Insti­tu­tions like Google Art Projects, the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Muse­um of Art and LACMA are among a few that offer exten­sive, free art images online.

Of course there are still copy­right issues that all insti­tu­tions must con­tend with. But it is to LACMA’s cred­it that they take their mis­sion of pub­lic access seri­ous­ly and put resources into mak­ing their won­der­ful col­lec­tion avail­able to the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Free: The Guggen­heim Puts 65 Mod­ern Art Books Online

Google Art Project Expands, Bring­ing 30,000 Works of Art from 151 Muse­ums to the Web

Down­load Hun­dreds of Free Art Cat­a­logs from The Met­ro­pol­i­tan Muse­um of Art

Dis­cov­er Ansel Adams’ 226 Pho­tos of U.S. Nation­al Parks (and Anoth­er Side of the Leg­endary Pho­tog­ra­ph­er)

Kate Rix writes about dig­i­tal media and edu­ca­tion. Vis­it her web­site, , to see more work.

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