The Art Institute of Chicago puts 44,000+ works of art online

After the fire that totally destroyed Brazil’s Museu Nacional in Rio, many people lamented that the museum had not digitally backed up its collection and pointed to the event as a tragic example of why such digitization is so necessary. Just a couple decades ago, storing and displaying this much information was impossible, so it may seem like a strange demand to make. And in any case, two-dimensional images stored on servers cannot replace or substitute for original, priceless artifacts or works of art.

But museums around the world that have digitized most–or all–of their collections don’t claim to have replicated or replaced the experience of an in-person visit, or to have rendered physical media obsolete.

A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. Georges-Pierre Seurat. 1884–1886. Via: Art Institute of Chicago

Digital collections provide access to millions of people who cannot, or will not, ever travel to the major cities in which fine art resides, and they give millions of scholars, teachers, and students resources once available only to a select few.

Thanks to the Art Institute of Chicago, we can all view and download 1884 pointillist painting in high resolution and share the digital image under a Creative Commons Zero license, and similarly interact with an oil sketchfor the final painting and several conté crayon studies.

The museum also includes a bibliography, exhibition history, notes on provenance, audio and video histories and descriptions, and educational resources like teacher manuals, lesson plans, and exams. This goes for many of the 44,312—with more to come—digital images online, including such famous works of art as Vincent van Gogh’s 1889 The Bedroom, Grant Wood’s 1930 American Gothic, Pablo Picasso’s 1903-4 blue period painting The Old Guitarist, Edward Hopper’s 1942 Nighthawks, Mary Cassatt’s 1893 The Child’s Bath, and so many more that it boggles the mind.

Browse Impressionism, Pop Art, works from the African Diaspora, Cityscapes, Fashion, Mythological Works, and other genres and categories. Search artists, dates, styles, media, departments, places, and more.

Bedroom in Arles. Vincent van Gogh. 1888. Via: Art Institute of Chicago

[Via: openculture.com]

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