Your Paintings website puts UK’s art collections at your fingertips

paintings, Constable
An online collection now boasts half of all the publicly owned oil paintings in the United Kingdom.

Your Paintings was started in June by the BBC and the Public Catalogue Foundation and has already uploaded high-quality images of 104,000 oil paintings by 23,000 artists.

The goal is to put online all of the estimated 200,000 publicly owned paintings housed in some 3,000 institutions, making it a veritable Google Books of UK art. There are plenty of UK artists, as well as many other works from around the world and from all periods. While all are owned by the public, many are in buildings that aren’t generally open to the public, so this website helps make them available.

Right now the website is focusing on putting up all the oil paintings since that was the preferred medium of painters for several centuries, and a medium that British painters used quite well. Other media such as watercolor and tempera are represented, and more such paintings will probably go up in the future.

Users can tag paintings to help with the ongoing organization of the collection. There are also links to BBC’s online sound and video archives and various guided tours by different people in the art world.

The website also hosts regular online exhibitions. Currently there’s one on the arctic.

Detail from John Constable’s “The Hay Wain” courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Caixa Forum Madrid opens major exhibitition on Eugene Delacroix

Madrid, Liberté
Caixa Forum Madrid has teamed up with the Louvre and several other museums and galleries to host a major exhibition on French Romantic painter Eugène Delacroix.

Delacroix (1798-1863) is most famous for his painting Liberté, shown above in this Wikimedia Commons image. This masterpiece commemorates the revolution of 1830 in which French king Charles X abdicated and fled to Great Britain. Absolute monarchy was abolished and a constitutional monarchy was created.

This exhibition brings together more than 130 works of the French master from all phases of his career and explores how he was inspired by Spanish painters such as Goya and later influenced Picasso. Unsatisfied with the artistic life in Paris, Delacroix set off to see the world and paint it. He was an adventure traveler in an age when that really meant something and many of his best paintings are of (then) hard-to-get-to countries. The painting below, courtesy Wikimedia Commons, shows The Women of Algiers in their Apartment.

Caixa Forum Madrid is an amazing free art gallery with three floors of exhibition space, a large bookshop, and a cool vertical garden in front. Visiting it is one of the ten best things to do in Madrid. The show runs until January 15, 2012. It will reopen at the Caixa Forum Barcelona in February.
Madrid

Medieval painted churches in England and Wales

medieval
England and Wales are full of beautiful medieval churches. From the famous like Christ Church cathedral to the lesser-known like Dorchester Abbey, they offer breathtaking architecture and decoration, and since many are free, they make good budget travel destinations.

Some even preserve fragile paintings from the Middle Ages, like this one photographed by Roger Rosewell, author of Medieval Wall Paintings in English and Welsh Churches. This is a thorough and richly illustrated guide to an art form many travelers know little about. He takes us through the history of these paintings and their sometimes obscure meanings, and delves into how they were seen by their contemporaries.

The above illustration shows the “Harrowing of Hell” and was painted in the late 15th century at the church of St. Peter and St. Paul in Pickering, Yorkshire. It’s a scene from The Gospel of Nicodemus, when between Christ’s burial and the third day, God undid Christ’s death and Christ released Adam, Eve, and other righteous souls from Hell. If you haven’t heard of this gospel, it’s because it’s one of the many books that didn’t make it into the final standard version of the Bible we know today. Scenes from this book and many other so-called Apocryphal texts were well-known to medieval Christians, though.

Other subjects include the Virgin Mary, the lives of saints, the Doom or final judgement, and the Warning to Blasphemers–a grisly scene in which those who have taken the Lord’s name in vain are shown tearing apart his body.

Rosewell also looks at the patrons who commissioned the work and the painters themselves, telling us a lot about medieval society. Interestingly, it appears some of the painters were women, yet little is known about any church painters, male or female. There’s also a handy gazetteer and subject guide to help you locate any church paintings along your trip itinerary.

I only have two minor criticisms of this work. Firstly, while Rosewell explains Christian iconography very well, sometimes he leaves architectural terms undefined. Despite having written two books on medieval history, I had to look up “soffit” and “voussoir”! Also, while many of the photos are lovely, some have less than ideal lighting and look like simple snapshots. Granted, many medieval wall paintings are so faded it’s virtually impossible to get good photos of them, yet I feel a bit more effort would have enhanced these photos considerably.

All in all, I highly recommend Medieval Wall Paintings in English and Welsh Churches to anyone interested in the Middle Ages, art, or travel in England in Wales. It’s the perfect mixture of art, history, and guidebook, something I wish the travel industry would give us more of.

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Amsterdam art exhibit focuses on the Antwerp school

Amsterdam, Hermitage, Rubens
The Hermitage Amsterdam starts an important exhibition tomorrow focusing on the Antwerp school of Flemish art.

Rubens, Van Dyck & Jordaens: Flemish paintings from the Hermitage runs until 16 March 2012 and features almost a hundred paintings and drawings from some of the great names in Flemish art. Peter Paul Rubens is especially well covered, including his famous work Venus and Adonis, painted around 1614 and shown above. Rubens was hugely influential, teaching Anthony van Dyck and inspiring Jacob Jordaens. Both of these masters have several works in the exhibition, as do many lesser-known names.

Hermitage Amsterdam is a branch of the St. Petersburg Hermitage and the works all come from there. Since its opening two years ago, it has been one of the major art destinations in Amsterdam.

While Amsterdam attracts a lot of tourists for its legal pot and prostitution, it’s so much more than Sin City. Amsterdam one of the art capitals of the world and a good base for many daytrips to places like Delft and several Dutch castles. I will be exploring Amsterdam and hopefully Antwerp next month in a miniseries right here on Gadling.

Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento opens new extension

The Crocker Art Museum has been showing the people of Sacramento fine art since 1885. Now it’s finished a $100 million extension that’s added 125,000 square feet of exhibition space. Previously the museum only had 40,000 feet. While the elegant Victorian building has been preserved, a large modern extension behind it allows for much more of the museum’s collection to go on display as well as serve for hosting traveling shows.

Members got a sneak peak yesterday and there’s a free day today. Current exhibitions include Tomorrow’s Legacies, showcasing 125 works that will be bequeathed to the museum, a show about Sacramento artist Wayne Thiebaud, and a collection of Old Master drawings.

The museum is especially noted for its paintings by California’s leading artists, drawings by the Old Masters, and an expanding collection of Asian art.

[Image of old Crocker courtesy user Amadscientist. Image of new Crocker courtesy user ronb76. Both via Wikimedia Commons.]