Download Great Works of Art from 40+ Museums Worldwide: Explore Artvee, the New Art Search Engine

Dil­bert cre­ator Scott Adams once wrote of his ear­ly expe­ri­ences intro­duc­ing the World Wide Web to oth­ers. “In 1993, there were only a hand­ful of Web sites you could access, such as the Smith­so­ni­an’s exhib­it of gems. Those pages were slow to load and crashed as often as they worked.” But those who wit­nessed this tech­nol­o­gy in action would invari­ably “get out of their chairs their eyes like saucers, and they would approach the key­board. They had to touch it them­selves. There was some­thing about the inter­net that was like cat­nip.” In the inter­ven­ing decades, the tech­nol­o­gy pow­er­ing the inter­net has only improved, and we’ve all felt how great­ly that cat­nip-like effect has inten­si­fied. And the Smith­son­ian, as we’ve fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture, is still there — now with much more online than gems.

Today, the Smith­so­ni­an’s impres­sive online col­lec­tions are acces­si­ble through Artvee, a new search engine for down­load­able high-res­o­lu­tion, pub­lic domain art­works. So are the col­lec­tions of more than 40 oth­er inter­na­tion­al insti­tu­tions, from the New York Pub­lic Library and the Art Insti­tute of Chica­go to the Rijksmu­se­um and Paris Musées, many of which had lit­tle or no online pres­ence back in the ear­ly 1990s.

In recent years, they’ve got­ten quite seri­ous indeed about dig­i­tiz­ing their hold­ings and mak­ing those dig­i­ti­za­tions freely avail­able to the world, upload­ing them by the thou­sand, even by the mil­lion. With so many art­works and arti­facts already up, and sure­ly much more to come, the ques­tion becomes how best to nav­i­gate not just one of these col­lec­tions, but all of them.

Artvee con­sti­tutes one answer to this ques­tion. Using its search engine, writes Denise Tem­pone at Domesti­ka, “you can fil­ter cat­e­gories such as abstract art, land­scape, mythol­o­gy, draw­ings, illus­tra­tions, botany, fash­ion, fig­u­ra­tive art, reli­gion, ani­mal, desserts, his­to­ry, Japan­ese art, and still life. The site also gives you the option to search by artist. You will find works by Rem­brandt van Rijn, Claude Mon­et, Raphael, and San­dro Bot­ti­cel­li in this amaz­ing gallery.” Oth­er col­lec­tions, cre­at­ed by Artvee itself as well as by its users, include “illus­tra­tions from fairy tales; cov­ers of pop­u­lar Amer­i­can songs; and some even more pecu­liar ones, such as adverts sell­ing bicy­cles that are over a hun­dred years old.”

The vari­ety of artists brows­able on Artvee also includes Alphonse Mucha, Edvard Munch, and Hilma af Kint; oth­er col­lec­tions offer the won­ders of polit­i­cal illus­tra­tions, book pro­mo posters, and NASA’s visions of the future. All of the items with­in, it bears repeat­ing, are in the pub­lic domain or dis­trib­uted under a Cre­ative Com­mons license, mean­ing you can use them not just as sources of inspi­ra­tion but as ingre­di­ents in your own work as well, a pos­si­bil­i­ty few us could have imag­ined at the dawn of the Web. Back then, you’ll recall, we all used a vari­ety of dif­fer­ent tools and por­tals to nav­i­gate the inter­net, accord­ing to per­son­al pref­er­ence. The emerg­ing field of art search engines, which includes not just Artvee but oth­er options like Museo, may remind us of those days — and how far the inter­net has come since.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

A Search Engine for Find­ing Free, Pub­lic Domain Images from World-Class Muse­ums

Vis­it 2+ Mil­lion Free Works of Art from 20 World-Class Muse­ums Free Online

The Smith­son­ian Puts 2.8 Mil­lion High-Res Images Online and Into the Pub­lic Domain

14 Paris Muse­ums Put 300,000 Works of Art Online: Down­load Clas­sics by Mon­et, Cézanne & More

Cre­ative Com­mons Offi­cial­ly Launch­es a Search Engine That Index­es 300+ Mil­lion Pub­lic Domain Images

Flim: a New AI-Pow­ered Movie-Screen­shot Search Engine

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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