The project came from the Public Catalogue Foundation, who have been going round county by county recording all the paintings in the institutions in each area in order to produce a book on those collections. They came to Bedfordshire thankfully before we had packed away all our collections and the glossy volume Oil Paintings in Public Ownership – Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire & Northamptonshire came out earlier this year.
As well as all of the oil paintings in Cecil Higgins Art Gallery & Bedford Museum, the county is represented by paintings from Bedford Borough Council, the John Bunyan Museum, Moot Hall, Wrest Park, and the University of Bedfordshire, as well as many others.
The Your Paintings website lets you browse through the paintings, search by Gallery or Collection, or search by artist - where each painter is beautifully represented by a painted portrait. Clicking on an artist can lead you on to a wealth of information that includes not only the usual biography and selection of works but also slideshows and links to BBC content on the iPlayer such as the programmes The Culture Show and Making Masterpieces.
An area we particularly like (and can't wait to explore fully!) is the Tagger feature. This allows users of the site to tag content in the pictures so that the subjects or details in the pictures can be searched on. This could be a simple as the keywords 'portrait' or 'landscape' or could get far more specific pointing out details like 'bonnet' or 'oak tree', or art historical genres such as 'Impressionism' or 'Vorticism'.
The possibilties are endless! The site gives you the opportunity to bring together pictures from all over the country in your personally constructed themes. And soon users will be able to create their very own guided tours too. Curators, Education departments, art enthusiasts and visitors alike will find this a valuable tool. Most importantly it should help to give the public a sense of ownership of their national and local collections, and get out and visit their museums and galleries. KP