Written by Molly Schoen
80,000 digital images make for a sizeable collection. That’s how many we’ve got where I work, at the Visual Resources Collections at the University of Michigan. And while we try to cover the images needed for every class within our department (History of Art), there are bound to be gaps. It’s an impossible expectation for any singular image collection to have everything.
Students and faculty alike are often flummoxed by the process of finding digital images. Undergraduates tend to be more prone to using sites such as Google Images, Flickr, and Wikimedia; these may be fine for quick reference, but not for searching for high quality images with accurate colors and trustworthy metadata. The problem with these websites is that anyone can edit or upload images, so there’s no stake in the accuracy of the works they represent.
So, to help students, professors, and other art history buffs find the images they need, we provide handouts of online sources for digital images. The handout includes restricted access sites, where one typically needs an email address from a subscribing institution to enter, as well as sites freely available to the public. Additionally, as more and more museums are offering high resolution images on their websites, I’ve also started building a list of individual institutions that have searchable online collections.
New digitization projects seem to sprout up all the time—this year has seen the advent of the Google Art Project and the Digital Public Library of America, among others—so this list is never finite. If I’ve missed any good sources, leave a comment below!
Restricted Access Collections
The University of Michigan Digital Library (UMDL) MImage Collections is composed of various image collections from across the UM campus. With over 500,000 available images, the Collections are divided into different subject areas, with cross-collection searching also possible.
The History of Art collection is searchable by the faculty who have requested or submitted images (search for the professor’s uniqname to view results). It also contains images from other relevant digital image collections in the UM community, including the University of Michigan Art Museum.
ARTstor is a digital library with over one million images of architecture, painting, sculpture, photography, and decorative arts from across nearly all cultures and time periods. The digital library is composed of images from museums, private collections, individual photographers, special collections, and photo archives. New image collections are added to ARTstor frequently. ARTstor is a good source for both canonical works and rare images.
CAMIO provides access to digital images of works from prominent museums in the US, Canada, and UK. CAMIO is built from museum photography and is not a comprehensive representation of a museum’s holdings. Strengths are in photographs, prints, drawings, and paintings.
The majority of articles in Oxford Art Online (formerly Grove Dictionary of Art Online) include links to relevant images. Image sizes can sometimes be small.
Bridgeman Education provides access to over 370,000 images from museums, galleries, private collections, and contemporary artists. Users can browse by movement, period, school, as well as subject matter: graphic design, conceptual themes, fashion, etc.
Open Access Websites
A collaboration between Google and over 150 partner institutions from 40 countries, the Google Art Project provides a comprehensive catalog of high-quality images of art. From architecture to sculpture to painting to printed works, the 30,000 images represent nearly all time periods and cultures from the history of art. GAP also includes many interactive features, such as the ability to maintain your own image portfolios. This is a more reliable alterative to Google Images.
Various art-related research guides compiled by the Fine Arts library.
Mother of All Art and Art History Pages:
Compiled by the UM School of Art & Design, this is an extensive directory of links related to all things art- and art history-related. In addition to its vast array of research sources, this site also includes a directory of art colleges, associations, museums, and other institutions, making it a great resource for anyone working in the arts.
A composite database of object collections in French museums, Jaconde contains over 500,000+ records, and more than 275,000 accompanying digital images. It also contains separate collections for archaeology and ethnology.
Europeana is a portal to cross search 1,500 European cultural collections—museums, libraries, archives, and other institutions. Users can limit search results to images only and can also review results in timeline or map formats.
Artcyclopedia.com functions as an online database for over 2,000 art-related websites. Users are provided with lists of links for individual artists, art movements, subject matter, etc. Links vary widely from museum collections to commercial art poster websites.
Web Gallery of Art is collection of approximately 20,000 images focusing on European painting and sculpture from the 12th-mid 19th centuries. Image sizes can sometimes be small.
Resulting from the California State University IMAGE project, the WorldImages database contains approximately 100,000 images. The images include artistic works and monuments from throughout the world and other highly useful didactic material. The images are arranged by subject for easy browsing, as well as grouped into helpful portfolios for teaching survey classes.
Launched in April 3013, the DPLA is an aggregate of online collections from leading museums and libraries nationwide. It features thousands of art images.
Art Museum Websites
The following institutions offer extensive collections of digital images on their websites. Some even provide downloads of high resolution images. Rights and reproduction permissions will vary from museum to museum.
The Rijksmuseum, Netherlands (313,000+ images)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (260,000+ images)
Harvard Art Museums (250,000+ images)
Yale University Art Gallery (127,000+ images)
The National Gallery of Art, Washington DC (25,000+ images)
Los Angeles County Museum of Art (20,000+ images)
The Getty, Los Angeles (4,600+ images)
Walters Art Museum, Baltimore