Online Digital Images Libraries for Artworks

Great strides have been made in procuring and displaying digital images of artworks on the internet in the last years, and there exist an increasing number of high-quality images of Dutch paintings. On the down side, progress is utterly uneven and there exists no digital acquisition standard that facilitates informed comparisons of color, tone and brightness and to ensure consistent production to print. At the moment only the National Gallery of London guarantees that each image from the files of the National Gallery Company Online Picture Library is consistent with the others. The policies of the remaining galleries presume that images of individual artworks are to soem degree manually adjusted.

As for copy right issues, each institution seems to be moving into this digital age at their own pace and in their own way.

The following web resources furnish a reasonable number of high quality digital images of seventeenth-century Dutch paintings (but not only)

BBC Your Paintings logo

BBC - Your Paintings

In partnership with the Public Catalogue Foundation, BBC Your Paintings offers online access to publicly owned oil paintings across the United Kingdom. Launched in summer 2011 with approximately 60,000 paintings, Your Paintings currently displays 210,000 works. Particularly abundant for the Dutch art enthusiast are the works of the portraitist Peter Lely, the history painter Gerrit van Honthorst and Dutch marine paintings, whose works were collected in great numbers by enthusiastic British collectors in the seventeenth century. Only basic information (title, author, date, medium, date and current location) is provided for each painting.

Paintings can be searched by subject matter or author. It is important to remember that painters must be searched by surname only: if first name or initials are used, no results are returned. Oddly, a search for “Dutch painting” yields only one result.

image quality:
Originating from a great number of independent institutions, the digital images of the Your Paintings vary greatly in quality. Unfortunately, the images are not high- resolution although color is gnerally acceptable, enough at least, to be of use for the curious layman. The sheer variety of images not accessible elsewhere make Your Paintings may prove useful to specific fields of art historical research.

The Your Paintings interface functions passably. Layout and graphics and visuals are below state-of-the-art. To registered BBC users, the My Collection allows the user to “curate” and share one’s own collection of paintings. Users may subscribe to the PCF monthly newsletter and stay updated with the latest news.

See terms and conditions.

Memory of the Netherlands search box

Memory of the Netherlands

The Memory of the Netherlands is an online image library that comprises 833,928 objects from 133 collections of 100 museums, archives and libraries. The library includes photographs, sculptures, paintings, bronzes, pottery, modern art, drawings, stamps, posters and newspaper clippings. In addition there are also video and sound recordings. The Memory of the Netherlands constitutes a digital treasury that offers a unique and varied picture of the history and culture of the Netherlands.

The search box, which can be dragged anywhere upon the browser window, offers a simple and an advanced search. Basic information is offered for each work of art—unfortunately in Dutch only. Images can be viewed with a zoom feature or saved at maximum resolution directly on the user’s hard drive.

image quality:
Coming from a great number of minor and major institutions, the digital images of the Memory vary greatly quality but are generally of acceptable color quality. Many paintings are in high resolution making them suitable for both laymen and art historians.

Searching and download time of the Memory are good. Graphics and visuals are just sufficient.

See terms and conditions.

National Gallery of Art website logo

National Gallery of Art (Washington D.C.) / NGA Images

Following a major redesign, the National Gallery of Art website offers an excellent image library which contains a vast number of artworks including a selection importan17th-century Dutch paintings. While many minor Dutch painters are not represented in the gallery’s collection, its masterworks are nothing short of memorable.

With the launch of NGA Images, the National Gallery of Art has adopted a forward looking open access policy for digital images of works of art that they believes are in the public domain. Images of these works are available free of charge for any use, commercial or non-commercial. Users do not need to contact the Gallery for authorization to use these images in any way. This policy is also adopted by the Rijksmuseum and the J. Paul Getty Museum.

In the first six months after the launch of NGA Images (March, 201), more than 104,000 images were downloaded.

image quality:
Originating uniquely from the gallery’s collection, many of the 32,000-plus digital images currently available are homogenous in quality following stringent guidlines of the NGA digital program. Users may zoom images online, or download them onto their hard disk in two formats: up to 1,200 pixels long without registration higher-resolution images of up to 3,000 pixels, via a simple registration. The National Gallery plans to eliminate this registration as part of the next phase of NGA Images becasue it is considered an unnecessary step and a potential barrier to access.The National Gallery of Art charges fees only for special services, such as new photography of works or customized imaging.1

The search feature of the National Gallery is easy and responsive. Search the entire collection by artist's last name, key words in the title, key words in object information, credit line, provenance name, accession number, exhibition history, and/or catalogue raisonné. Search can be filtered by medium, nationality, time span, styles, images, and whether an object is on view. Click here for advanced search.

Searching thumbnails can be customized. Users may build their own “lightbox” collections which group favorite works or art which can them be accessed from a link in the lower, right-hand corner of the screen.

Currently available are 152 Dutch paintings.

The NGA search feature is responsive and download quick. The graphics and visuals are exceptionally clean and well designed so that othing gets between the user and the work of art. The only flaw is that popup tooltip images are so large that they cover various thumbnail images below making searching a bit tricky.

With the launch of NGA Images, the National Gallery of Art implemented an open access policy for digital images of works of art that the Gallery believes to be in the public domain. Images of these works are now available free of charge for any use, commercial or non-commercial. Users do not need to contact the Gallery for authorization to use these images. They are available for download at the NGA Images website ( See Policy Details below for specific instructions and notes for users.

Metropolitan Museum of Art logo

Metropolitan Museum of Art - Search the Collection

The New York Metropolitan Museum of Art houses one of the most astounding collections of artworks in the world including seventeenth-century Dutch paintings of exceptional quality. In late 2011, the Metropolitan launched an updated website. As of January 2013, more than 540,000 images have been posted of which 398,000 are high resolution, all available for personal and educational uses. The current approach of the museum to the use of its images grew out of the museum’s 2006 strategic plan, which pioneered making fee-free, high-resolution images available for scholarly publication and research through the partnership with ARTstor that created the IAP service.2

image quality:
The quality of the digital image paintings of the Metropolitan is generally excellent. Color is accurate and resolution is high, although at maximum resolution they generally appear slightly out of focus in comparison to the exceptionally clear and brilliant images of the Rijksmuseum.

Some objects are also featured with alternative x-ray images. The images can be viewed with the zoom feature or downloaded onto the user’s hard drive free of charge, but are limited non-commercial, educational, and personal use only, or for fair use as defined in the United States copyright laws.

The Metropolitan website each function is flexible and easy to use. Users may search the website by name of authors, type of object, geographical location, period or museum department. Unlike every other website reviewed on this page, the Metropolitan offers not only high quality, high-resolution images for each artwork, but notes on signatures, inscriptions and markings, provenance, exhibition history and an exhaustive list of references indispensable for in-depth art historical research.

The Metropolitan search feature is responsive and display of high-resolution images quick. The graphics and visuals are clean. Perhaps, it is the best all-around search and display of paintings the sources currently available on the internet.

Unlike the Rijksmuseum, National Gallery and Getty Collection, the Metropolitan's images are subject to copyright. See terms and conditions.

National Gallery website logo

National Gallery (London)

The National Gallery houses one of the greatest collections of Western painting in the world and an exceptional collection of seventeenth-century Dutch painting.

image quality:
During the mid-1990s, in collaboration with other museums, universities and commercial enterprises, the National Gallery of London participated in a EC-supported MARC Project (Methodology for Art Reproduction in Colour) developing a new, large-format digital camera capable of making images up to 20,000 x 20,000 pixels. Since the project work flow eliminates adjustments in color and contrast that are habitually made by the photographer until he arrives at what, in his personal judgment, is the closest image possible to the original, the project assures that National Gallery images are comparable to one another in color, tone and brightness. However, as advanced as the MARC approach is in theory, the images of the National gallery appear uniformly lower in contrast than the original paintings and colors somewhat spent.

Although the National Gallery features a well designed zoom interface that allows each work of art to be viewed in impressive detail, the restrictive image policy prohibits users from downloading the images onto their hard disks. The integral images may be only downloaded through the National Gallery website after registration and a fee which is calculated according to the image's dimensions and usage.

The National Gallery search featured is located in the search box placed on the upper- left-hand corner of every page on the gallery’s website. Its collections can also be searched according by names of painters listed in alphabetical order (Artists fro A to Z ). The feature is cumbersome and offers no advanced search.

The National Gallery search feature is responsive. The graphics and visuals are passable. However, the outdated image policy demotes the website’s rating in respects to progressive institutions such as the Getty, the National Gallery of Art and the J. Paul Getty.

Unlike the Rijksmuseum, National Gallery and Getty Collection, the National Gallery's images are subject to copyright. See terms and conditions.

Rijksmuseum webstie logo


The Rijksmuseum boasts the most imposing collection of seventeenth-century Dutch painting of the globe. The recently redesigned website (Fabrique) attempts to complete the museum’s forward-looking mission by offering 403,333 images of artworks in its collection to its users, free of copyright. An astounding 125,000 of its works have been made available. The staff’s goal is to add 40,000 images a year until the entire collection of one million artworks spanning eight centuries is available.

The Rijksmuseum has also developed a simple interface, Rijks Studio, that, according to the Rijksmuseum staff, will encourage users' creativity. Works from the collection can be transformed into something as simple as a print, or used to create material or sticker transfers for clothing, upholstering furniture, wallpaper, and decorating a vehicle or a mobile device.

image quality:
The strongest point of the Rijksmuseum website if undoubtedly the availability and quality of the digital images of their artworks. The images are sharp, clear and detailed. However, the browser window interface is so cluttered with navigation icons that the pictures themselves cannot be adequately appreciated. The responsive zoom feature allows the user to get incredibly close to the picture but the visual obstruction of the icons persists. Luckily, high-resolution digital images of each work can be downloaded free of charge after registration. All images are completely free of copyright.

The Rijksmuseum offers both simple and advanced search features which locates the works of single painters and relative works well. Other than the digital images, some basic information, exhibition history and bibliographical references (for the more important works of the collections) can be accessed by clicking of the information icon at the bottom of the browser window. Some of the references are linked to the Rijksmuseum library catalogue. The website also offers and a novel "search by color" feature, which displays color patches drawn from the current work of art. By clicking on one of the color patches, art works that display a significant amount of the same color in the museum's collection are displayed.

Although the Rijksmuseum digital images are above average in quality, free of charge and copyright, the search interface, the Rijksmuseum website appears somewhat over-designed leaving the visitor overwhelmed by visuals. The large slide-up/slide-down panels, which are indispensable for moving around the site, may shake on some browsers and the navigation icons of the advanced search interface may not be immediately comprehensible to all users. Textual information is scarce.

Rijksmuseum has a adopted a progressive digital image policy which allows users to download works of art for free and without restriction, so that all those who create or appreciate art—scholars, artists, art lovers, and entrepreneurs—will have greater access to high-quality digital images for their studies and projects.

Getty website logo

J. Paul Getty Museum

The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center in Los Angeles houses one of the most world’s most important collections of European paintings, drawings, sculpture, illuminated manuscripts, decorative arts, and European and American photographs.

image quality:
The Getty images are of high quality in color and particularly high resolution. Individual works of art can be viewed through a responsive zoom feature or downloaded by clicking on an unobtrusive “enlarge” icon located just below a small image of each artwork. Basic information and succinct explanatory notes are provided below a low resolution of each work of art.

The Getty features a no-frills search bar and some advanced search features (click on the “browse” button to the left of the search bar). Images can be searched by object type, medium, theme, artist’s name. A "download" link underneath the low-resolution image of an artwork indicates that the image is available under the Open Content Program.

A simple search for “Dutch painting” yields 274 results many of which without images.

The Getty simple and advanced search feature is easy to use and relatively flexible.

The Getty has recently implemented the progressive Open Content Program making available, without charge, all available digital images to which the Getty holds the rights or that are in the public domain to be used for any purpose. Currently, there are more than 10,000 images available through the Open Content Program. These include paintings, drawings, manuscripts, photographs, antiquities, sculpture, decorative arts, artists' sketchbooks, watercolors, rare prints from the 16th through the 18th century, and 19th-century architectural drawings of cultural landmarks. Over time, images from the Getty Conservation Institute will be added, as well as more images from the J. Paul Getty Museum and the Getty Research Institute.

Google Art Project logo

Google Art Project

By far, the most blazoned digital online art library is the Google Art Project. Museums large and small, classic and modern, world-renowned and community-based from over 40 countries have contributed more than 40,000 high-resolution images of works ranging from oil on canvas to sculpture and furniture. Some paintings are available in “gigapixel” format, allowing you to zoom in at brushstroke level to examine astounding detail.

image quality:
While digital images of some of the most iconic artworks are nothing short of spectacular, significant for both neophyte and savvy art historians, the overall quality of the image library is unhappily uneven. Too ofte, artworks appear not to have been freshly scanned, but derived from outdated images sources, perhaps, even faded color slides (e.g. Vermeer’s Geographer).

It is possible to search for images of artworks by name of painter, medium, geographical location, date or by the names of painters listed in alphabetical order. However, it is incomprehensible why painters should be listed int the artists in alphabetical order by their first name rather than their surname. If more than one artwork are returned by a search, they are displayed horizontally.

Like the Rijksmuseum, the Google a Art Project interface appears somewhat over-designed. Icons are unnecessarily copious and the sliding panels do not perform smoothly on all browsers. Both seriously detract from the viewing experience. Although the Art Project remains an invaluable resource for visual content, the viewing interface is far from intuitive, requiring a period of “training,” which depending on one’s familiarly with ins and outs web browsing, might range from a few minutes to repeated visits.

The zoom viewer is responsive but unpredictable, and, images cannot be downloaded onto the users hard disk.

Before Google reaches its final goal of democratizing art, perhaps some effort should be spent to make project more functional.

The Art Project's intellectual property policy is:

The high resolution imagery of artworks featured on the art project site are owned by the museums, and these images may be subject to copyright laws around the world. The Street View imagery is owned by Google. All of the imagery on this site is provided for the sole purpose of enabling you to use and enjoy the benefit of the art project site, in the manner permitted by Google’s Terms of Service. The normal Google Terms of Service apply to your use of the entire site.
  1. "Images of Works of Art in Museum Collections: The Experience of Open Access A Study of 11 Museums," Council on Library and Information Resources, prepared for The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation by Kristin Kelly, June 2013. <>
  2. ibid.
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