'Your Paintings' becomes 'Art UK'

February 28 2016

Image of 'Your Paintings' becomes 'Art UK'

Picture: Art UK

The wonderful Public Catalogue Foundation (which has photographed every publicly owned oil painting in the UK) has a new website; Art UK. It takes over from the BBC's hosting of the PCF's data, which was called 'Your Paintings'. Personally, I'm sorry that the BBC is no longer as involved as it was. But the new site has much better functionality (though the image zoom function is not yet operational, I'm told it will be later this year).

The launch of the site saw, in The Times, some surprise expressed that the Royal Collection's paintings are not included in the site. This seems to be because the Royal Collection has refused to let the PCF in. The absence of the Royal Collection images highlights the curious status of what was formerly the Queen's personal collection. It is nowadays described as being 'held in trust for the nation', which isn't quite the same as saying the nation owns it, but gets around the tricky question of inheritance tax.

Though it sounds like a fudge, it's always struck me that the Royal Collection's trust status is good compromise between public and private ownership; the Royal Family were never going to sell the pictures, so they weren't really privately owned in that sense, and the trust status means that the government doesn't own them either. And that means a future government can't one day sell anything. Furthermore, the Royal Collection goes to great lengths to make works publicly accessible, and its exhibition catalogues are the best you'll find these days.

Anyway, from the point of view of whether the Royal Collection should be on the Art UK site, then it is in one sense moot; the Royal Collection already has an excellent website

Update - a reader writes:

I’m not sure I can agree with your sympathetic views towards the Royal Collection and their continued refusal to support Art UK’s digitisation work. The Royal Collection website is indeed excellent but so are the websites of so many other institutions - e.g. the Wallace Collection - and that does not stopped them from embracing the digitisation project.  By my reckoning The Royal Collection website only includes records for c.4,700 paintings out of an estimated total of 7,000 so Art UK’s work would make the collection more accessible to the public and scholars.  You will recall the discovery a few years ago of two Caravaggio paintings in The Royal Collection; what other riches could Art Detective help identify if the whole of the collection was available for scrutiny?  I think the issue of whether the Royal Collection paintings are owned ‘by' the public or ‘for' the public is a red herring; the collections of the Oxford colleges are not publicly owned but the enlightened souls there take the view that the collection should be available for all to see.  What logical reason is there for the Royal Collection to continue to obfuscate except for a bad case of ‘not invented here’?

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