Friday, December 31, 2010

Art and Image Resources

Here's a list of places to find high quality, public domain images of historical costume, settings and objects.  I'm mostly interested in 1750 to 1830, so these will be best represented  

[ETA  -- now has both links and the URL printed out.]

Big Sites

Victoria and Albert Museum (allows use of museum images for noncommercial personal use.)

Web Gallery of Art (These are all public domain.)

Art Renewal (All public domain)

The Artchive (These are all public domain, I think.  Browse by artist and title.  Get largest image by clicking to select, click on the blue line that says 'To order".  Then click on the painting.  Image has watermark.)

The Louvre -- Virtual Visit (Groups images by time, place, and artistic school)

The Louvre -- Search the Collection (Type a word into the search box)

Base Joconde (Searches all the museums of France.  This is in French, so use babelfish for the search term.  Type search term into the box on the lower right and tick avec image.)

New York Public Library Digital Image Collection
(You can limit this by date.  See the lower part of the search parameters.)

Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met approves scholarly, noncommercial use with attribution and link to Met.)

Flickr  (On the bottom of the form, click to search creative commons photos only.  These CC images must be attributed.)

(You can copy creative commons icons here.

Hermitage Museum (Does not expressly allow scholarly posting, but many are public domain.  Images said to be invisibly watermarked.)

The British Museum (Approves noncommercial scholarly uses.  Mark images copyright British Museum)

Boston Museum of Fine Arts

National Portrait Gallery  (Can be searched by date to find public domain.)

Brighton Museum

Yale  (250,000 images on line, all expressly free for use.)

Yale Center for British Art
With its cool search engine and many public domain images.c

Wikipedia  (All the images on Wikipedia are either Public Domain or have been placed in all-use, non-attribution Creative Commons or equivalent.  When you search a topic, check the bottom of the page for a notice saying 'Wikimedia Commons has media related to . . . '.   To specifically search Wikimedia, the entry page is here. )

British Paintings Online
There are over 200,000 of them.  Just wonderful. 

Web Gallery of Art  (Again, these images are public domain)
I had just a terrible time finding the 'search' feature.  Go to Gallery and the search tab is at the bottom of the page.  Not a bad search engine once you find it.  This is a commercial site, beautifully searchable by subject.  Many are Public Domain, but a good many are copyright, so you have to use common sense. If possible, search here to find the works, then find the image at a site with better resolution.

Smaller Sites

The Noel Collection (Allows use of images with acknowledgement of source and a link back) 
The page is here

Brooklyn Museum (Non-commercial use of images permitted, with attribution, as Creative Commons.  Yeah Brooklyn!)

The Tate   (No explicit permission for image use for scholarly purposes, but many images are public domain.  Images tend to be poor quality.)

The National Trust Museum of the U.K.  (The museum forbids use without licensing.  Images tend to be small and poor quality.  They have some public domain images.)

Olga's Gallery (Russian oriented)

Crocker Art Gallery (Only about 500 items.  Strong on California.)

Tufts Bolles Print Collection (Not indexed or searchable that I can see.  Try it out to see if it matches your interests.)

LACMA, (wide range of European and American artworks.  Searchable.) the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, has a goodly number of searchable images.   The search engine includes a parameter for selecting date.  Many public domain images.
Greypony  (Mainly C18 and C19.)

Scholar's Resource  (Small images only, but it says where the site got them so most can be tracked down in larger format.)

Romantic Query Letter (Not indexed.  Cool pictures.)

Getty Images  (On the advanced search page, click 'Creative stock images' and 'All royalty-free collections'.  Each image has release information below the image.  Read the license agreement.)
Similar to Getty is Diomedia here.   There are other stock image collections as well.

Old Paint Now here. (Searchable for keyword in box at upper left.  Searchable by date on left sidebar.  Some are not public domain.)

The Blue Lantern (Searchable for keyword in box at upper left.)

Japonisme (Searchable for keyword in box at upper left.  Original photos are copyright to site.  Prints are copyright as per date of creation.  Many are public domain.)

Res Obscura (Another small blog of interesting Public Domain images.)

Pre Raphaelite Art   (Searchable for keyword in box far at lower left.  These are old enough to be public domain.)

Art Experts (A wide and interesting collection, searchable only by artist's name.  But LOTS of minor artists.)

100 Years of Illustration (Vintage magazine covers and Adverts.  I'm assuming these are all pub dom on the site.)

National Education Network (These images are for educational use.  Interpreted broadly, this should include blogging on historical topics.)

National Gallery of Australia  (search by keywords.  Set for list+image.  No express permission for scholarly use, but many are public dom.)

National Gallery of Ireland (Search by artist or date of artwork.);jsessionid=07866704D872FEF8832F34044A5D0F14?t:state:flow=696c0767-314f-4274-86ce-85f48b6e642a

Museum of the City of New York  (Lovely powerful search engine.  See the 'rights&reproductions tab at the top. Though they attempt to restrict use of public domain work, they have no right to do so.)

Powerhouse Museum Collection  (Many creative commons images, but you have to check each image.)

Kunst Historisches Museum (This is German, so use babelfish to translate your search term.  No express permission for scholarly use, but many are public dom.)

Henry Luce Center for the Study of American Culture
(New York Historical Society's eMuseum.  No express permission for scholarly use, but many images are public dom.)

Canadian Museum of Civilization    (No express permission for scholarly use, but many are public dom.)

Musee McCord  or here on Flickr.  (Images may be used for educational purposes under the terms of use.)

The Winterthur Collection  (No express permission for scholarly use. A few are public domain.)

Royal Ontario Museum  (No express permission for scholarly use, but many are public dom.)

Anne Brown Military Collection  (Collection of military images, many pub dom.)

The Athanaeum (Should be public domain.  Searchable.)

Dobedobedo (Random but interesting.)

Madame Guillotine  (Women's C18 clothing.  All pub dom.)

Victorian and Edwardian Paintings (Public Domain paintings and photos. )

Creative Spaces (Searches several British museum data bases at once.  The individual sites have more thorough search engines.)

Geograph Britain and Ireland These photos of British Isles places -- and many of them are just lovely -- are Creative Commons.

BibliOdyssey (Great images from old books and prints, almost all public domain.) 

Do you know other collections of historically interesting images?
Please share.


  1. Thanks for the great links. And Happy New Year! May 2011 bring you even more success...and me more of your wonderful books. :)

  2. Hi, Jo, these are all useful sites. Thank you for posting them.

    I want to caution folks about assuming an art work is in the public domain based on its age. If the painting or whatever is owned by a museum or is in the hands of a private collector, permission for its use may be and probably is required. As you note, some museums such as the Met have made their holdings available for scholarly use without permission (though proper acknowledgment is required), but many others have not.

    Wikipedia is notorious for displaying an image and asserting it's in the public domain based on its age alone.

    Copyright laws are notoriously vague about such matters. While the guideline for copyright is given as the length of the author's/artist's life plus 70 years, the reality is that institutions and private collectors have leverage here if only because individuals and publishers are not willing to cough up the legal fees required to challenge their assertion of copyright. This issue is much discussed in scholarly circles, along with what constitutes fair use. For example, James Joyce's grandson Stephen has been complicating scholars' lives for years by asserting he needs to give permission for any use of James's works. He doesn't have a leg to stand on, but until recently no one has wanted to put up the money to challenge him. The New Yorker had a fascinating piece about this a few years ago.

    It's clear that museums and private collectors don't much care if their works are added to websites for noncommercial purposes (otherwise Wikipedia wouldn't get away with it), but the case is certainly different for books and articles, even if they are scholarly publications and even if said scholarly publication is only available on-line.

    The issue is clearer for works of literature than art because of the way they are distributed. No one has to worry about fair use guidelines if they are quoting from a Jane Austen novel because they can use an edition that falls well within the copyright guidelines. However, permission is probably required to quote from her letters since they are part of a library's private holdings. Harvard still asserts copyright over Emily Dickinson's poems because they own all the manuscripts and most were not published in her lifetime.

    I realize this information won't be relevant to most or perhaps any of your readers, but it is something reputable publishers must and do deal with on a daily basis.

  3. Hi Linda --

    Thank you so much. I hope this will be just a wonderful year for you.

    The larger sites are all fairly straightforward. Some of the smaller sites are a bit obscure. I do enjoy them though.

  4. Hi, Jo, these are all useful sites. Thank you for posting them.

    I just wrote a really long post on copyright, which looked as though it was posted. However, now it's gone. On the off chance you decided it wasn't appropriate for the blog, I won't try to reproduce it. If that's not the case, though, and you are interested in my ramblings on the issues related to determining whether something is in the public domain, let me know. I'll try again.

  5. Hi Annie --

    The blog posting did not 'post'. It may have been too long ...?

    Anyhow, cool comment. I did get the message sent to me. I have it in full. I'll post it as a topic later on today.

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. Hi Annie --

    I am so sorry.

    For some reason Blogger decided your comments were spam. Your messages ended up in a 'spam folder' I didn't even know I had.

    (For anyone who might have the same problem --
    the spam folder is found under the 'comments' tab in that dashboard-y stuff.)

    So I restored the first comment. There seemed to be duplicate copies of the next comment, so I put one up and deleted the duplicate.

    An exciting New Years Day for both of us. Sorry you were bothered by this. I'm still going to make a blog posting in a bit.

  8. Wow! Thank you Jo! This'll be lots more fun than randomly going through Google Images.
    Have you ever found paintings or old photos that look like your characters?

  9. No worries, Jo.

    In rereading my comment, I see I was not always careful about my terminology. Authors assert copyright. Museums assert reproduction rights. It's analogous to an author who retains copyright to their novel but has assigned the publication rights to a particular publisher.

  10. Hi Deniz --

    Not so much. The ideals of beauty change so much over time that I never seem to find a modern sensibility expressed in a centuries old image.

    Or maybe it's just me. Maybe I'm picky.

  11. Great post, thank you so much. I don't know if you have come across it yet, but there is a site called Creative Spaces which is a searchable database of image objects from about nine UK national museums including the V&A, the British Museum, the Sir John Soame Museum and the Imperial War Museum. A wonderful primary source resource and quite underused I think! The link is here: (not sure what the reproduction rights are - similar to the British Museum, I suspect).

  12. Hi Cahrity Girl --

    It is indeed an excellent resource. I will go add it to the list.

  13. It's like Christmas all over again! Thanks for the great resource, Jo! I also really enjoyed reading the follow up post on copyright and use of images.

    In other news, I showed your books to my MIL while she was here over the holidays. She's eager to hunt them down as fast as you'll write them.

  14. Hi Kaige --

    I have an ulterior motive for posting this. Blog posts make us all richer. I want more more more blogposts. So here's another tool for bloggers.

    If you think of a great source of images, let me know.

    I am so glad your MIL liked the books. I am so flattered.

  15. Hi Jo,
    Usually it's older paintings that remind me of mine - I found a portrait of a 16th Century sculptor who's expression reminds me of my 15th Century monk. It's usually just that, the expression or stance that reminds me of the characters. You're right; the faces - and of course the clothing - could never be exactly right if they're not close to the time period.

  16. I know what you mean.

    The funny thing is, sometimes we see precisely modern people looking at us out of the past. This fresco from Pompeii --

    That's a couple people I know.

  17. Thank you for this, Jo. I wasted over an hour a few days ago on Flickr trying to download images, which as it turned out, were not available for downloading. I was able to find what I needed (just an image of a clock!)on another site, but your post now provides so many additional resources.

    I'm looking forward to reading your books.

  18. Hi Pam Mingle --

    Another resource for common objects is wikipedia. All the images on all the wikipedia pages are public domain and creative commons.

    I do hope you ae able to find the books and that you like them.

  19. There's also this site If you search keywords in images, you can get some lovely historical ones.

  20. Hi Deniz --

    I've added the site. Thank you so much. Nothing like a recommendation.

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  22. Hi Santo --

    There is information about Da Vinci at the site and two or three paintings.

    I always think there's a certain sameness about the faces in his paintings. I've never understood why the Mona Lisa was the one singled out for such admiration.

    But that's just me . . . and I'm not an artist.

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