It can often happen that we might need to, or wish to, strengthen our knowledge of art works and collections, but these aren’t always at hand, because of their geographic location or because certain conditions do not allow us to visit a museum or gallery.
Works of art and collections rotate periodically between various cultural institutions and museums, it can sometimes come to pass that we go to a museum set on seeing a particular work only to find out it’s currently on loan for a temporary exhibition elsewhere or that it’s been moved for restoration.
However, in an era in which museums are increasingly resorting to new technologies, it’s become common to be able to access a lot of digitized contents – made available by the institutions which preserve the collections – either for study purposes or simply for pleasure.
So, what should you do if you’re in one these situations? A good place to start is with high-definition images, catalogue cards and artist focused catalogues, all very important tools for those who study the subject but also for anyone who wishes to gain more knowledge of artists and their work. Below, we have compiled a list of sites we know and like best, to share with you these magnificent places dedicated to art, which you can visit from the comfort of your own home.
Before we start we’d like to make an essential premise: the digitization of the art works is first of all a way to preserve the memory and ensure the survival of the art work, as it is constantly deteriorating; documentation of the works through photographs is a useful way to keep track of the these changes. For professionals as well as art lovers photographs allow constant access to the works as well as allowing a further appreciation of its peculiarities, its history and characteristics, as these are often an integral part of catalogue cards – containing historical-artistic descriptions and other information.
1 | WGA – Web Gallery of Art
As an example of a digital archive gallery dedicated entirely to paintings, we couldn’t fail to mention the Web Gallery of Art: a virtual archive created in 1996 (mainly for professors and students), in which it’s possible to explore an infinite amount of content dedicated to artists of the 13th to 19th century. This online gallery allows access to HD images (entire works, details of the works, or works divided into several parts), through simple or advanced research. It also allows users to take thematic tours or to examine the artists’ biography in depth, and to compare these using the Dual Mode section. This huge database has also been augmented with sections dedicated to sculpture and architecture as well as a glossary which contains numerous definitions and art terms. WGA is a useful tool if you are researching the great masters, as it has excellent and reliable images.
2 | I cataloghi digitali delle collezioni museali
There are now many museums and cultural institutions that have allowed a free online digital version of their collections. Leafing through the catalogues of major institutions such as the Guggenheim, the British Museum, the V&A Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Gallery and the Museo del Prado, it’s possible to examine works of arts, their characteristics, descriptions and historical information through HD images (in some cases available for download on public domain). These museums have official websites that offer multiple resources, allowing the user to research a work and possibly visit virtual tours of the museums rooms. With regards to Italian museums, similar services are available on the Pinacoteca di Brera website (offers about 669 works on the online platform) and the Uffizi Galleries website (users in this case also have access to catalogue cards of the works present at the Gallery).
3 | Specific online catalogues
These catalogues are focused on specific artists and aim to provide a reliable list of authentic works, accompanied by a chronology, biography and exhibition history of the artist in question. It’s a product that, even today, is mostly available on paper rather than in digital version; though there has been, recently, an increase in online availability. It’s an instrument of fundamental importance both for the art market as well as for academic purposes as it allows a 360° view of the artist through orderly, reliable and verified information. For example, within the catalogue dedicated to Egon Schiele (created by scholar Jane Kallir) it’s possible to search by year, by title, by subject or category according to one’s needs. It includes not only paintings but also sketches and sculptures, providing a comprehensive documentation which allows the retracing, step by step, of the artists technical and formal evolution.
Other catalogues available online: Salvador Dalì (which required a 17 year research conducted by a team led by Montse Aguer, director of the Dalì Museums); Paul Cézanne and Edgar Degas. In Italy, the Arnaldo Pomodoro Foundation has recently inaugurated a similar project, which is still a work in progress in constant evolution (it’s available after online registration).