It used to be that the only way to see great works of art was to visit the museums that house them or purchase a poster from an art shop. But this week the J. Paul Getty Trust, the world’s richest art institution (not to be confused with the Getty Images stock agency), has released 4,600 images from its collection to the public for free to use. This means anyone can download these high-resolution scans (we’re talking 800 dpi) to use for any purpose, in any manner – commercial or private – as long as they are properly credited to the “Getty Open Content Program.”
The set includes renowned pieces you’ve seen in your art history books as well as lesser known ones, most of them not exhibited in Getty’s museums in Los Angeles (Getty’s collection is huge, although it specializes mainly in antiquities and Western art). Besides paintings, there are also nearly 600 photographs available. To browse Getty’s collection, you can use its search feature; pieces that are part of the “Open Content Program” will have a download option.
Before a piece is downloaded, a user will be asked what his/her intention is, whether it’s for private or public use. This is part of Getty’s research into understanding how its collection will be used. There are plans to release more content down the line (the 4,600 pieces are a fraction of what Getty owns). “We’re conducting a thorough review of copyright and privacy restrictions on our holdings to identify all the images we can make available,” said Getty Trust CEO James Cuno. (You can read more about the program, and why the Getty Trust is doing this, starting with Cuno’s letter.)
Getty isn’t the first institution to start an “open access” program. Getty cites the Walters Art Museum, the National Gallery of Art, Yale University, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and Harvard University as forward-thinking institutions that have inspired it to do the same. With Getty’s involvement, the art world just became a lot more accessible to everyone.
So now, instead of having to buy a pricey poster to hang on your wall or print a terribly low-res version of it, you can have a high-res digital copy stored on your hard drive. To give you a small taste of Getty’s massive collection, here are 12 of the art world’s greatest masterpieces, from Van Gogh to Monet and Stieglitz. But with more than 4,000 to choose from, you have a lot of museum browsing ahead of you.
Irises, Vincent van Gogh
Wheatstacks, Claude Monet
The Hand of Man, Alfred Stieglitz
La Promenade, Pierre-Auguste Renoir
Houses at Bougival, Camille Pissarro
View of the Boulevards of Paris, William Henry Fox Talbot
Still Life with Apples, Paul Cézanne
Portrait of Alfonso d’Avalos, Titian
River Scene, Camille Silvy
The Milliners, Edgar Degas
The Abduction of Europa, Rembrandt
(Digital images courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program.)