The National Gallery Makes 25,000 Images of Artwork Freely Available Online


No sur­prise that in “Mas­ter­works for One and All,” an arti­cle about how muse­ums have begun to offer free, high-qual­i­ty down­load­able images of works from their col­lec­tions, the New York Times’ Nina Sie­gal brings up Wal­ter Ben­jamin. The pre­oc­cu­pa­tions of the philoso­pher behind “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechan­i­cal Repro­duc­tion” may seem more rel­e­vant than ever in these days of not just mechan­i­cal repro­duc­tion, but uni­ver­sal, devel­oped-world own­er­ship of the means of mechan­i­cal repro­duc­tion — and near­ly instan­ta­neous, effort­less mechan­i­cal repro­duc­tion at that. Many rights-hold­ers, includ­ing cer­tain muse­ums, have effec­tive­ly decid­ed that if you can’t beat the mechan­i­cal repro­duc­ers, join ’em. “With the Inter­net, it’s so dif­fi­cult to con­trol your copy­right or use of images,” Sie­gal quotes the Rijksmu­se­um’s direc­tor of col­lec­tions as say­ing. “We decid­ed we’d rather peo­ple use a very good high-res­o­lu­tion image of [Ver­meer’s] ‘Milk­maid’ from the Rijksmu­se­um rather than using a very bad repro­duc­tion.” (See our pre­vi­ous post: The Rijksmu­se­um Puts 125,000 Dutch Mas­ter­pieces Online, and Lets You Remix Its Art.)


Sie­gal goes on to men­tion the efforts of Wash­ing­ton’s Nation­al Gallery of Art, which has so far made super high-res­o­lu­tion images of 25,000 works freely avail­able on NGA Images, a site that describes itself as “designed to facil­i­tate learn­ing, enrich­ment, enjoy­ment, and explo­ration.” You can browse the images by col­lec­tionFrench gal­leries, self-por­traits, music — view the most recent addi­tions, or pull up the works of art most fre­quent­ly request­ed by oth­ers. Leonar­do’s por­trait of the Flo­ren­tine aris­to­crat Ginevra de’ Ben­ci, seen up top, has proven par­tic­u­lar­ly pop­u­lar, as has Claude Mon­et’s The Japan­ese Foot­bridge just above. But does all this bear out Ben­jam­in’s con­cerns about mechan­i­cal repro­duc­tion cheap­en­ing the orig­i­nal aura of a work? “I don’t think any­one thinks we’ve cheap­ened the image of the ‘Mona Lisa,’” an NGA spokes­woman said to Sie­gal. “Peo­ple have got­ten past that, and they still want to go to the Lou­vre to see the real thing. It’s a new, 21st-cen­tu­ry way of respect­ing images.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Google Launch­es a New “Art Talks” Series: Tune in Tonight

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

Free: The Guggen­heim Puts 65 Mod­ern Art Books Online

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on lit­er­a­ture, film, cities, Asia, and aes­thet­ics. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­lesA Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

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Comments (6)
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  • Felicia Hannah Fish says:

    The high-qual­i­ty images give me a respon­si­bil­i­ty to be a bet­ter artist.

  • R. Hartzell says:

    I was impressed by this sto­ry and the appar­ent muse­um move­ment to make “very good high-res­o­lu­tion” images avail­able to every­one.

    How­ev­er, after vis­it­ing the Nation­al Gallery image site I have to say I’m a lit­tle dis­ap­point­ed by the avail­able res­o­lu­tion. I down­loaded 3 images and found that the max­i­mum res­o­lu­tion in any one direc­tion is 1200. So I found a Hen­ri Fan­tin-Latour self-por­trait with a res­o­lu­tion of 1000 x 1200, a Vin­cent Van Gogh self-por­trait with a res­o­lu­tion of 921 x 1200, and an uncred­it­ed Amer­i­can prim­i­tive seascape of a schooner with a res­o­lu­tion of 1200 x 831.

    These are fine for dis­play­ing on a PC screen or print­ing out on 5 x 7 ink-jet pho­to paper but would look pret­ty dread­ful if you opt­ed to try print­ing them out much larg­er — say, in poster size or actu­al size.

    So: bet­ter than noth­ing but, as a give­away, not exact­ly impres­sive.

  • Peter says:

    R. Hartzell — there are two down­load options. You can down­load images up to 3,000 pix­els using the high res­o­lu­tion down­load option (arrow with two bars under­neath). These are not “super” high res­o­lu­tion as the arti­cle states but suit­able for many uses, includ­ing pub­li­ca­tion. If you need a poster sized image you can order a high­er res­o­lu­tion file for a nom­i­nal fee to cov­er pro­cess­ing.

  • Samuel Francazio says:


  • Ciearre Green says:

    I dont get the image that was put up here on this web­site.

  • Babu Ear Prasadshw says:

    want to down­load hierony­mus bosch images

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