The Public Catalogue Foundation Announces the Launch of Art Detective - AZTV7/Cable 13, Me-TV 7.2, HSN 7.3, Phoenix-Prescott, AZ

The Public Catalogue Foundation Announces the Launch of Art Detective

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SOURCE The Public Catalogue Foundation

LONDON, May 5, 2014 /PRNewswire/ --

Art Detective is a ground-breaking initiative that connects public collections in search of information about their oil paintings with specialists and members of the public with relevant knowledge. Whether it is to discover the name of a beautiful 1930s society hostess or the artist behind a Dutch seventeenth-century still life, Art Detective will help collections put names to unidentified sitters, places and events depicted in their paintings and the unknown artists behind works.

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Art Detective addresses the serious issue of insufficient - and declining - specialist knowledge within public art collections. It is available to all 3,000 or so collections that participate in Your Paintings, the website created by the PCF in partnership with the BBC. The vast majority of these participating collections - many of which are not museums - do not have fine art curators, whilst many have lost experienced curators through funding cuts over the years.

There are approaching 30,000 paintings on the Your Paintings website where the artist is not known and over 15,000 works where the attributions are uncertain. Some 8,000 portraits are missing the identities of the sitters and thousands of other paintings are missing information about the places or events depicted. Ahead of the launch of Art Detective a small number of paintings on Your Paintings have already been firmly re-attributed, notably one to Van Dyck at the Bowes Museum and one to Gainsborough at the Museum of St Albans. The launch of Art Detective promises more discoveries - both major and minor.

Art Detective has been built by the PCF using the support of public funding through the Arts Council's Renaissance Strategic Support fund. It has been developed in collaboration with the University of Glasgow, together with representatives of Manchester Art Gallery, the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery, Tate, Yale Center for British Art and a number of smaller institutions, the art trade and academia. An Expert Panel comprising Professor David Ekserdjian (Chairman), Alastair Laing, Professor Nigel Llewellyn and Dr Jill Lloyd oversees the appointment of the specialists who lead Art Detective's special interest group online discussions. The website design and build was carried out by Keepthinking.

The principal outcome of Art Detective will be improved knowledge of the nation's oil painting collection. Art Detective will also actively engage the public in the care and curatorship of public collections, and allow them to witness and participate in the processes of art historical research, connoisseurship and knowledge creation that lie behind the displays and exhibitions in our public museums and galleries.


Nicholas Penny, Director of the National Gallery, says, 'Art Detective should provide a central exchange and a podium where expertise can be shared, problems can be aired, and discoveries can be publicised.'

Joyce Wilson, Area Director, London, Arts Council England, says, 'Art Detective is a really interesting project and one that we are delighted to have been able to support through the Museum strategic support fund. Digital technology offers so much potential for arts and cultural organisations and this is a wonderful example of how it can be put into practice. Accessible to all, this website opens up the debate to a much wider national - and even international - audience, creating an excellent opportunity for us all to discover more about the collections that we hold.'

Emma Halford-Forbes, Museum Manager, The Black Watch Castle & Museum, says, 'There are some real gems within our relatively small collection, and Art Detective is going to become an invaluable resource by giving us access to fantastic specialist knowledge.'

Dr Bendor Grosvenor, Art Historian and Dealer, says, 'Art Detective will build on the outstanding achievements of the Public Catalogue Foundation, which has enabled us to discover more about our national collection than ever before. I was lucky enough to find lost works by Gainsborough and Van Dyck thanks to the PCF's photographs, and now I hope Art Detective will allow others to make similar finds.'

Professor David Ekserdjian, PCF Trustee, says, 'Most people presume that all the facts about who painted what and related questions must already have been established, but nothing could be further from the truth. Art Detective will make a huge contribution to our knowledge of the national collection.'

Professor Nick Pearce, Head of the School of Culture & Creative Arts, University of Glasgow, says, 'The objectives of Art Detective to improve the knowledge and understanding of Britain's art collections is a fundamental part of History of Art's research and wider public engagement activity at the University of Glasgow. I am delighted that Glasgow has been a part of this exciting and ground-breaking development from its very beginning.'

Andrew Ellis, Director of the Public Catalogue Foundation, says, 'The UK's regional art collections face substantial challenges, particularly around collection research. Art Detective will provide much-needed assistance and, in all probability, result in some important discoveries.'

Notes for Editors 

How Art Detective Works 

Art Detective comprises a free-to-use digital network built on top of the PCF's existing art object database and linked to the Your Paintings website; editors based at the PCF; academic support from History of Art staff at the University of Glasgow; an Expert Panel; a small team of Group Leaders; and volunteer contributors of specialist knowledge. Contributors include informed members of the public, academics, the art trade, museum curators, retired practitioners, artists and their estates.

Questions from collections or suggestions from members of the public are entered into Art Detective from the painting pages on Your Paintings. Anyone can follow 'Discussions' - broad public involvement and contributions are sought. The Art Detective editors at the PCF filter out suggestions and questions that can be addressed without the need for public involvement. Those that the collection cannot answer become public Discussions and are attached to 'Groups' with a specialist interest such as portraits or military subjects. We are starting with 12 Groups but this number will grow over time. Each Group has a 'Leader' appointed by the Expert Panel. These Leaders have an established reputation in their field and are responsible for monitoring Discussions and leading them to a conclusion. Firm or qualified conclusions are then sent by the PCF to the respective collection that owns the painting. The collection has the final say on whether to accept the recommendation.  

Who Was Involved in Building Art Detective 

The Steering Panel that guided the PCF on the development of Art Detective comprised:

Val Boa: Curator, McLean Museum and Art Gallery
Adrian Cooper: Director, Intelligent Heritage
Professor David Ekserdjian: Professor of History of Art and Film, University of Leicester and PCF Trustee
Rupert Featherstone: Director, Hamilton Kerr Institute; Assistant Director, Conservation, The Fitzwilliam Museum
Dr Susan Foister: Director of Collections and Deputy Director, The National Gallery
Dr Peter Funnell: Curator of Nineteenth-Century Portraits and Head of Research Programmes, National Portrait Gallery
Andrew Greg: Director, National Inventory Research Project, and Honorary Research Fellow (History of Art) University of Glasgow
Dr Bendor Grosvenor: Art Historian and Dealer
Dr Pat Hardy: Curator of Paintings, Prints and Drawings, Museum of London
Dr Matthew Hargraves: Curator for Collections Research; Head of Collections Information and Access, Yale Center for British Art
Professor Nigel Llewellyn: Head of Research, Tate
Professor Robert Meyrick: Head of the School of Art and Keeper of Art, Aberystwyth University
Ruth Shrigley: Principal Manager: Collections Access, Manchester City Galleries
André Zlattinger: Senior Director, Scottish Art, Christie's

Website Build 

The website was created to a specification drawn up by the PCF and their digital consultant Adrian Cooper of Intelligent Heritage ( who created the technical specification. The site was built by Keepthinking (

Arts Council England's Strategic Support Fund 

The Arts Council's Strategic support fund aims to support excellence, and the potential for excellence, in a wide range of museums across England. It focuses on any gaps (geographical or otherwise) or development opportunities across the sector recognising that excellence and the potential for excellence can be found in museums of all sizes. For more information please visit:

About the PCF 

The PCF's mission is to help public collections make their artworks accessible for enjoyment, learning and research. It was launched in 2003 to create a photographic record of all the oil paintings in public ownership in the United Kingdom. It completed this work in 2012. All these paintings can be seen online through the 'Your Paintings' website (, created in partnership with the BBC. The website shows 212,000 paintings from some 3,200 collection venues around the UK.

The PCF also run other digital projects. With the help of crowd-sourcing technology pioneered by the Astrophysics Department at the University of Oxford to classify galaxies, and art historical input from the University of Glasgow, the public are invited to go online and help classify or 'tag' the paintings catalogued by the PCF so that the paintings can be searchable by subject matter ( In October 2013 the PCF launched its annual Masterpieces in Schools programme which involved collections lending paintings by the likes of Gainsborough, Monet and Turner to primary and secondary schools for the day.

In addition to publishing its work online, the PCF has also published a series of printed catalogues that are available for purchase at The PCF is a registered charity.

Contact Information 

The Public Catalogue Foundation, 33 Maiden Lane, London, WC2E 7JS Tel: +44(0)20-7395-0330, Email:, Web: Facebook: Twitter:

Web Address:

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