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English 100 (Susan St. John, Spring 2023): Digital Collections (Finding Art and Images)

Digital Collections

Many museums, archives, and libraries now offer digital access to their collections. Digital collections are a great way to get inspiration for your own work, analyze different techniques, and learn more about your craft. Listed below are a few institutions that offer digital collections.

The British Museum (UK)

Watercolour painting on paper, of the pietra dura decoration on the marble plinth of Arjumand Banu Begum’s cenotaph. © The Trustees of the British Museum

"The first national public museum of the world. The British Museum is unique in bringing together under one roof the cultures of the world, spanning continents and oceans. No other museum is responsible for collections of the same depth and breadth, beauty and significance.

Its eight million objects allow us to explore the extraordinary diversity of human cultures, from small communities to vast empires, to discover the many forms and expressions human beings have given to every aspect of life, and to realise how closely they are interconnected." -- From the website


Collections: ceramics, paintings, drawings, sculpture, artifacts, and more


The Frick Collection (USA)

"Mrs. Peter William Baker," Painter: Thomas Gainsborough (British, 1727-1788), Oil on canvas, 1781, Henry Clay Frick Bequest, The Frick Collection.

"Internationally recognized as a premier museum and research center, the Frick is known for its distinguished Old Master paintings and outstanding examples of European sculpture and decorative arts.

The collection originated with Henry Clay Frick (1849–1919), who bequeathed his home, paintings, sculptures, and decorative arts to the public for their enjoyment. The institution’s holdings—which encompass masterworks from the Renaissance through the nineteenth century—have grown over the decades, more than doubling in size since the opening of the museum in 1935. A critical component of the institution is the Frick Art Reference Library, founded in 1920 by Helen Clay Frick, daughter of the museum’s founder. Recognized as one of the world’s top art history research centers, it has served students, scholars, and members of the public free of charge for generations." -- The Frick website


Collection Highlights: "Old Master" paintings

Collections: paintings, sculpture, furniture, ceramics, paper, textiles, clocks, medals, enamels 

The Guggenheim Museum (USA)

"Dominant Curve (Courbe dominante)" 1937, Vasily Kandinsky, oil on canvas, Guggenheim Museum.

"Committed to innovation, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation collects, preserves, and interprets modern and contemporary art, and explores ideas across cultures through dynamic curatorial and educational initiatives and collaborations. With its constellation of architecturally and culturally distinct museums, exhibitions, publications, and digital platforms, the foundation engages both local and global audiences." - The Guggenheim website


Collection Highlights: contemporary art

Collections: film/video, installation, internet art, painting, photography, sculpture, work on paper


The Louvre (FR)

"Figurine," BCE 2106/1786(?) Moyen Empire Egypt, Louvre Museum.

"The Musée du Louvre contains more than 380,000 objects and displays 35,000 works of art in eight curatorial departments with more than 60,600 square metres (652,000 sq ft) dedicated to the permanent collection. The Louvre exhibits sculptures, objets d'art, paintings, drawings, and archaeological finds.

The museum opened on 10 August 1793 with an exhibition of 537 paintings, the majority of the works being royal and confiscated church property.  The collection is divided among eight curatorial departments: Egyptian Antiquities; Near Eastern Antiquities; Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities; Islamic Art; Sculpture; Decorative Arts; Paintings; Prints and Drawings."


Collections: Paintings, drawings and prints, sculptures, furniture, textiles, jewelry and finery, writing and inscriptions, and objects


The Metropolitan Museum of Art (USA)

"Covered box with hibiscuses and grapevines," mid-15th century, China.

"The Metropolitan Museum of Art presents over 5,000 years of art from around the world for everyone to experience and enjoy. The Museum lives in two iconic sites in New York City—The Met Fifth Avenue and The Met Cloisters. Millions of people also take part in The Met experience online.

Since its founding in 1870, The Met has always aspired to be more than a treasury of rare and beautiful objects. Every day, art comes alive in the Museum's galleries and through its exhibitions and events, revealing new ideas and unexpected connections across time and across cultures." -- MET website


Collections: All inclusive


Museum of Modern Art (USA)

"Untitled," 1986, Barbara Kruger, MoMA

"In the late 1920s, three progressive and influential patrons of the arts, Lillie P. Bliss, Mary Quinn Sullivan, and Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, perceived a need to challenge the conservative policies of traditional museums and to establish an institution devoted exclusively to modern art. They, along with additional original trustees A. Conger Goodyear, Paul Sachs, Frank Crowninshield, and Josephine Boardman Crane, created The Museum of Modern Art in 1929. Its founding director, Alfred H. Barr, Jr., intended the Museum to be dedicated to helping people understand and enjoy the visual arts of our time, and that it might provide New York with “the greatest museum of modern art in the world." - From the MoMA website


Collection Highlights: All forms of modern art


Nasjonalmuseet (NOR)

"The Dance of Life," Edvard Munch, 1899-1900, painting, Nasjonalmuseet.

"The National Museum of Art in Norway, also known simply as the National Museum, shortened NaM (Norwegian: Nasjonalmuseet for kunst) is a Norwegian state-owned museum in Oslo. It holds the Norwegian state's public collection of art, architecture, and design objects. The collection totals over 400.000 works, amongst them the first copy of Edvard Munch's The Scream from 1893." - Wikipedia entry

Collection Highlights: Munch


The National Gallery of Art (USA)

This square portrait shows the head and shoulders of a young woman in front of a spiky bush that fills much of the background except for a landscape view that extends into the deep distance to our right. The woman

"Ginevra de' Benci," c. 1474/1478, Leonardo da Vinci, National Gallery of Art (Washington DC)

"The National Gallery of Art, founded as a gift to the nation, serves as a center of visual art, education, and culture. Our collection of more than 150,000 paintings, sculpture, decorative arts, photographs, prints, and drawings spans the history of Western art and showcases some of the triumphs of human creativity. Across 363 days a year, the National Gallery offers a full spectrum of special exhibitions and public programs free of charge." -- From the National Gallery website


Collection highlights: All inclusive fine arts


New York Public Library (USA)

"An illustration of writing brushes," 1908, Shigeo Inobe, New York Public Library

"The New York Public Library has provided essential access to books and information for more than a century. Today, we are building on that legacy by increasing access to our collections physically and online, and by transforming our libraries into proactive centers of education and opportunity for all New Yorkers." - NYPL website


Collections: photographs, documents, scrapbooks, manuscripts, illustrations, posters, book art, maps


Te Papa Tongarewa (NZ)

ME001683; Käkahu kura/kahu kura (käkä feather cloak); 1905-6; Tühoe; Paitini, Makurata; hand weft twining (double pair twine) whatu aho rua, inclusion of käkä feathers, täniko borders in natural dyes

"Kākahu kura/kahu kura (kākā feather cloak)," 1905, Makurata Paitini; weaver, Te Papa Tongarewa.

"The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa is New Zealand's national museum, located in Wellington. Usually known as Te Papa (Māori for "the treasure box"), it opened in 1998 after the merging of the National Museum of New Zealand and the National Art Gallery. Te Papa's philosophy emphasises the living face behind its cultural treasures, many of which retain deep ancestral links to the indigenous Māori people. The Museum recognises the partnership that was created by the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, te Tiriti o Waitangi, in 1840." --  From the Wikipedia entry

Collection Highlights: Taonga Māori, Pacific Cultures

Collections: photography, art, botany, history


The Prado (SP)

"Visio Tondali," Oil on oak panel, 1510-1515, Hieronymus Bosch, Museo del Prado

"The Museo del Prado, an institution dating back 200 years and one whose origins and unique nature are largely due to the collecting tastes of Spain’s 16th- and 17th-century monarchs. Collecting at that period differed from the present day. Rather than aiming at comprehensiveness, collectors aimed to assemble as many works as possible by their favourite artists. This explains why the Prado has been described as a museum of painters not of paintings, given that its artists are represented in a superlative manner with, for example, the largest holdings of Bosch, Titian, El Greco, Rubens, Velázquez and Goya, some numbering more than 100 works. This type of instinctive collecting also resulted in gaps and explains why some periods are less well represented than others, either because they were not of interest, for example the Italian Primitives, or for historical reasons, as with 17th-century Dutch painting." -- Museo Del Prado website


Collection Highlights: painting


The Rijksmuseum (NE)

"Perziken, pruimen, kersen en twee insecten," Elisabeth Geertruida van de Kasteele, after Michiel van Huysum, 1818 - 1853, Rijksmuseum

"The Rijksmuseum is the national museum of the Netherlands. We tell the story of 800 years of Dutch history, from 1200 to now. In addition, we organize several exhibitions per year from our own collection and with (inter) national loans." -- Rijksmuseum website


Collection Highlights: Dutch masters


The Smithsonian Institution (USA)

"Eruption! Original comic splash page," 1992, Dawud Anyabwile, National Museum of African American History and Culture.

"The Smithsonian Institution is the world’s largest museum, education, and research complex, with 21 museums and the National Zoo—shaping the future by preserving heritage, discovering new knowledge, and sharing our resources with the world.

The Institution was founded in 1846 with funds from the Englishman James Smithson (1765–1829) according to his wishes “under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge.”  - Smithsonian website


Collections: museum objects, archives, and library material


State Hermitage Museum (RUS)

"Portrait of Peter the Great," Bartolomeo Carlo Rastrelli, The State Hermitage Museum.

"The State Hermitage Museum is a museum of art and culture in Saint Petersburg, Russia. It is the largest art museum in the world by gallery space. It was founded in 1764 when Empress Catherine the Great acquired an impressive collection of paintings from the Berlin merchant Johann Ernst Gotzkowsky." - Wikipedia entry


Collections: fine art, numismatic objects, archaeological artefacts, arms and armory, and more


The Tate (UK)

"Rhythm 0," 1974, Marina Abramovic, Tate Museum

"When Tate first opened its doors to the public in 1897 it had just one site, displaying a small collection of British artworks. Today we have four major sites and the national collection of British art from 1500 to the present day and international modern and contemporary art, which includes nearly 70,000 artworks." - Tate Museum website


Collection Highlights: British art, contemporary art


The Uffizi (ITA)

"Birth of Venus," 1485, Sandro Botticelli (Firenze 1445-1510), Tempera on canvas, The Uffizi

"The Gallery entirely occupies the first and second floors of the large building constructed between 1560 and 1580 and designed by Giorgio Vasari. It is famous worldwide for its outstanding collections of ancient sculptures and paintings (from the Middle Ages to the Modern period). The collections of paintings from the 14th-century and Renaissance period include some absolute masterpieces: Giotto, Simone Martini, Piero della Francesca, Beato Angelico, Filippo Lippi, Botticelli, Mantegna, Correggio, Leonardo, Raffaello, Michelangelo and Caravaggio, in addition to many precious works by European painters (mainly German, Dutch and Flemish).

Moreover, the Gallery boasts an invaluable collection of ancient statues and busts from the Medici family, which adorns the corridors and consists of ancient Roman copies of lost Greek sculptures." - Uffizi website


Collection Highlights: Italian renaissance art; paintings, sculptures


The Whitney Museum (USA)

"National Anthem," 2018, Kota Ezawa, video, sound, color

"As the preeminent institution devoted to the art of the United States, the Whitney Museum of American Art presents the full range of twentieth-century and contemporary American art, with a special focus on works by living artists. The Whitney is dedicated to collecting, preserving, interpreting, and exhibiting American art, and its collection—arguably the finest holdings of twentieth-century American art in the world—is the Museum’s key resource. The Museum’s flagship exhibition, the Biennial, is the country’s leading survey of the most recent developments in American art." - Whitney website


Collection Highlights: American art from early 20th to 21st century


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