Your Paintings Need You! By AHA alum Katie Campbell

The revelation that all those with access to the internet can now browse the nation’s collection of paintings, has gone relatively unnoticed, unless of course you managed to catch the Culture Show programme last Saturday (students by any chance?).  So here goes! The Public Catalogue Foundation (No, I hadn’t heard of them either) and the BBC (that rings a bell) have teamed up to make some 210,000 paintings of the national collection available online for all to see, study and generally have a good old nose about.  The venture has been called the catchy and rather Kitcheneresque ‘Your Paintings’. “What”, I hear you say, “my paintings?”, “do they need me?” Well, the answer to that is yes, and if you want to get a look at these paintings in the national collection, head over to the slightly less catchy and more lengthy website titled http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings/.

The website primarily works as a grandiose and pimped-up version of a picture library. Forget the filing cabinets of slides at university and welcome to the wonders of high resolution and search engines. You can search the collection by the paintings themselves, the artist or by the collection they belong to.  However, the team behind the website are hoping that it will evolve on from this library function in time thanks to their ‘Your Paintings Tagger’ initiative.  They’re encouraging us (yep, that’s you and me) to sign up as a ‘tagger’. Very simply, and just as the title suggests, they want us to ‘tag’, or ‘name’ if you will, the content of the paintings.  You can decide to just state the subject of each painting, for example ‘Diana and Actaeon’, or go one step further and tag certain themes evident within the painting, such as ‘Greek mythology’, ‘family life’ or ‘society and leisure’. It thus takes the form of the initial analysis of any painting, as one might complete in an Art History class. It is simple, fun, accessible to all and nurtures that all important understanding of art.

Whilst this may seem basic for those studying Art History, try and think back to the first time you were asked what a piece of art in front of you was trying to say. You’d have started with the obvious, and then as your interest and understanding of concepts and themes grew, you’d have zoomed in on the more detailed and complex matters encapsulated within that artwork.

 

Diana and Actaeon, National Gallery.
Just one of the many works available to see on the Your Paintings website.

In my mind, what ‘Your Paintings’ should be able to achieve is multi-faceted. With the help of the ‘tagger’ system, it should show young students entering the foray of art and art history where to start when looking at a painting.  It should also help them to realise that visual analysis is not daunting, and one just needs the encouragement and building blocks to start from.  Before I went on my Art History Abroad course a few years ago, I loved looking at paintings but I knew that this was purely on an aesthetic level. Having never studied Art History before the course, and also sorely lacking in artistic skills, I had no idea how to approach a painting analytically in order to discover the stories that were being told by the artists. My six wonderful weeks in ‘La Bella Italia’ with AHA gave me the building blocks I needed and a whole lot more. Saying this, I also envy those who are facing the same dilemma I faced during my school years, but who are now lucky enough to have the help of ‘Your Paintings’ with its vast collection at their fingertips.

 

Before and After Restoration. Olivia Boteler Porter, by Anthony Van Dyck

The YourPaintings website is not just a useful source for school children, it markets itself well to absolutely everyone. For any member of the public interested in art, any budding art historian as well as any art historian proper, it is a useful and fun way to see a myriad of paintings.  Furthermore, thanks to YourPaintings, a miraculous and wonderful discovery has been made. A work of art once thought to be just in the style of Anthony Van Dyck has now been confirmed to have been executed by the hand of the master himself. The subject of this portrait has also been re-identified as Olivia Boteler Porter, lady-in-waiting to queen consort Henrietta Maria and wife of Endymion Porter, a close friend of the great painter. Dr. Grovesnor (the man who discovered the painting’s true provenance) remarked, “To find a portrait by Van Dyck is rare enough, but to find one of his ‘friendship’ portraits like this, of the wife of his best friend in England, is extraordinarily lucky.”

‘Your Paintings’ has only just begun, but who knows what forgotten masterpieces we might find along the way? Quite a thought!

Images: www.nationalgallery.org.uk/ www.koreaherald.com

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