PCF launches Art Detective

The Public Catalogue Foundation (PCF) has launched a new initiative to boost knowledge of the UK’s public art collection. Art Detective, as it is known, is a free-to-use online platform that is asking members of the public to do their best to help find out key details on thousands of paintings.
All of these works, along with others that have all the required details, have been uploaded to Your Paintings, which is a joint venture between the BBC and the PCF (effectively an accessible archive). However, key nuggets of information are missing.
For example, there are over 30,000 works of art in public collections with no authorship; over 15,000 where attribution is dubious at best; over 8,000 portraits absent of sitter identity; and thousands without any clear reference as to the location of the work or the events captured.
Many paintings are therefore located in institutions that have experts scratching their head in mystification. Take The Forge of Vulcan. This work, which has no details whatsoever (name of artist, date it was executed, what country it originates from) is currently at Abingdon-on-Thames council. How and why is currently anyone’s guess.
This is where scholars, art aficionados, local history buffs and experts of various disciplines come in. Through them, it is hoped that over the next ten years, the PCF will expand knowledge of public art collections in a deep and meaningful way.
Nicholas Penny, director of the National Gallery, said that Art Detective should be thought of as a podium through which knowledge can be shared and discoveries make known.
The positive identification of an Anthony van Dyck at the Bowes Museum and a Thomas Gainsborough at the Museum of St Albans are indicative of what can be achieved through collaboration.
Joyce Wilson, London area director at Arts Council England, added that digital technology has so much potential to offer arts and cultural organisations and described Art Detective as a “really interesting project”.
She continued: “Accessible to all, this website opens up the debate to a much wider national – and even international – audience, creating an excellent opportunity for us all to discover more about the collections that we hold.”
A basic record of a painting should ideally contain the following information: a unique identity number; name of artist; title of the piece; production date; acquisition method; details of materials used; size; photographic and copyright records; and a history of the work’s location.
A full record will contain supplementary information. This includes inscriptions; provenance; exhibition history; publications in which the painting has been mentioned and/or discussed; conservation efforts; descriptive text; history and origins of the frame; and valuations.
Andrew Ellis, director of the PCF, remarked: “The UK’s regional art collections face substantial challenges, particularly around collection research. Art Detective will provide much needed assistance and, in all probability, result in some important discoveries.”
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