“Flat Art” from The British Musem

From the Guardian:

“The British Museum [has] quietly launched its comprehensive website of what it calls flat art: mostly so far its enormous collection of prints and drawings. The drawings, 50,000 of them, have all been catalogued; the prints, by no means.

The effort goes back a long way. In 1990 a team of four staff began cataloguing the drawings. It took them 10 years. At present there are on any given day eight people at work on the online catalogue, plus volunteers. What they are feeding into the system is not just the subject, author, dimensions and technical details, but also, where relevant, the scholarly literature on a given drawing, its full provenance, who gave it to the museum and when. From any entry you can then find out, for instance, what is known about the donor of the object (many of the gifts go back to the 18th century).

If you look up everything under, say, Hockney, you find a Rembrandt drawing included, on the grounds that Hockney once waxed lyrical about it. If you look up Rembrandt you will find prints and drawings made by him, fakes, copies after him, images of him and so forth. …

The website is unrestricted and you can print off any image. A battle was won before this was allowed to happen, and the result is that anyone – student, teacher or amateur – can get hold of a decent A4 reproduction of the drawing or print they are interested in, for personal use. For scholarly use, there will shortly be an automatic downloading option that gives a free image (for use in a scholarly article or book) of a suitable quality for reproduction. This is going to make an amazing difference in academic life, and it is part of a general trend (begun by Mark Jones at the V&A) of public institutions not charging for educational use of copyright material.”

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