Mixing and matching

A Chinese empress with attendants, by Robert Jones, c 1817, at the Royal Pavilion, Brighton. ©Brighton & Hove Museums and Art Galleries, supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

A Chinese empress with attendants, by Robert Jones, c 1817, at the Royal Pavilion, Brighton. ©Brighton & Hove Museums and Art Galleries, supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

It seemed madly ambitious: to make all of the UK’s publicly owned oil paintings available online via one website. But now the Public Catalogue Foundation and the BBC have completed their epic project, and as of yesterday 211,861 paintings are accessible via the Your Paintings site.

Chinese landscape with pagoda and boats, by William Alexander, at Anglesey Abbey, Cambridgeshire. ©National Trust Collections, supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

Chinese landscape with pagoda and boats, by William Alexander, at Anglesey Abbey, Cambridgeshire. ©National Trust Collections, supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

The National Trust is the largest single collection on the site, with 12,567 paintings. But the National Trust hasn’t just contributed to this project, we have also greatly benefited by having had all of our paintings photographed in colour for the first time.

The Your Paintings site provides unprecedented opportunities for locating works by particular artists and discovering links between collections on a national scale.

A Chinese emperor with attendants, by Robert Jones, c 1817, at the Royal Pavilion, Brighton. ©Brighton & Hove Museums and Art Galleries, supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

A Chinese emperor with attendants, by Robert Jones, c 1817, at the Royal Pavilion, Brighton. ©Brighton & Hove Museums and Art Galleries, supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

I just spotted these wonderful images of hyper-elegant Chinese figures by Robert Jones. They were made to decorate the Banqueting Room at the Royal Pavilion, Brighton, and they seem to depict the Prince Regent’s daydreams about the Chinese imperial court as a place of unquestioned power, vast wealth and refined luxury.

Chinese landscape with pagoda and boats, by William Alexander, at Anglesey Abbey, Cambridgeshire. ©National Trust Collections, supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

The work of William Alexander was among the sources for Jones’s fantasy vision. Alexander accompanied Earl Macartney on a diplomatic mission to Beijing from 1792 to 1794. On his return he provided the illustrations for a number of books about China, including Sir George Staunton’s official account of the Macartney embassy (1797) and his own book The Costume of China (1805).

Although his work is generally realistic, it has a picturesque sense of composition and detail – as in the pictures shown here, also accessible through Your Paintings – that appealed to other artists and consumers of chinoiserie.

13 Responses to “Mixing and matching”

  1. The Devoted Classicist Says:

    What a fantastic resource! The value of having all this available for viewing is not possible to estimate. Congratulations!

  2. Andrew Says:

    Sigh. Free to view, yes, but notwithstanding that the original works (well, these ones, anyway) are all c.200 years old, and are part of “the UK’s publicly owned oil paintings”, yet the photographs of them are “© Brighton & Hove Museums and Art Galleries” and “© National Trust Collections” so the public can’t use (copies of) the images as they wish. Why? Does the public own these images or not?

    Are you aware of the Bridgeman v Corel case? Asserting copyright over exact copies of public doman / public works like this would not work in the US. There is a rather nasty term “copyfraud” although strictly speaking the photographer (or his employer or assignee) holds the copyright of the photograph in the UK

  3. style court Says:

    Emile, I’m a huge fan of Your Paintings — an awe-inspiring gathering and a terrific resource!

  4. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Classicist & Courtney, thanks.

    Andrew, yes I know this is a contentious area, and it is interesting to learn there is such a big difference between UK and US legislation/law.

    I can only speak for the NT’s stance, as I understand it, in a UK legal context, which is that whilst we assert our copyright over the photographic images that we have commissioned of our places and collections, we do at the same time generally allow free non-commercial online use of those images.

    And if you search on Pinterest under ‘nttreasurehunt’ you will see how keenly people are copying and recopying our images, which we are happy about as it makes our places and collections better known.

    Personally I am all for the online availability and exchange of images – one of the things that is providing a huge boost to research and creativity world-wide (which I was musing about here: http://bit.ly/gpQDc8).

    But in any case this seems to be a fairly dynamic legal area, and the whole legal framework in the UK might change – do you think it will?

  5. Andrew Says:

    There are pros and cons here, of course – the wish for galleries and museums to generate some return from the time and cost they spend creating photographs and digital images of their collections (particularly if they are being used commercially) versus the undoubted benefits for the public of being able to access and use the images as they wish. That has positive impacts for the institution, of course: increased public engagement and goodwill, and possible addtional visits and other revenues (sales of guidebooks, postcards, etc) for the collection.

    I generally incline to the view that exact copies of public domain works (that is, works where the copyright for the life of the primary creator of the work, plus generally 70 years, has expired) should be free of copyright, particularly where the works are owned by the public (the National Gallery, for example) (the National Trust is in a peculiar quasi-public position, but more public than private it seems to me). A couple of years ago, the NPG threatened to sue Wikipedia for using some of its digital images.

    Doesn’t it seem odd to you to be claiming copyright on images that are 200 years old?

    But on your question, the legal landscape seems to be moving in favour of stronger copyright protection not weaker, although enforcement is very patchy.

  6. artandarchitecturemainlyHels Says:

    Epic project indeed and well worth doing, especially for us remote types!

    A Chinese emperor with attendants, by Robert Jones at the Royal Pavilion, Brighton was beautifully created in c1817 and is beautifully re-represented now. I wonder if the Prince Regent personally made the choices of what works were to decorate the Banqueting Room at his Royal Pavilion. Who advised him?

  7. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Andrew, I think the subject is fascinating, especially regarding the influence of new technologies: how online copying and downloading is changing the publishing and music industries, and is facilitating copying of works of art and other images. And it is interesting that you say that we seem to be moving towards stronger copyright protection. There may be a correlation there with the increasing tendency to erect paywalls around online publications.

    I think I understand the useful distinction you make between original works in the public domain, exact copies or reproductions and new works inspired by works in the public domain. But in some cases it is quite difficult to distinguish between them: a beautifully composed photograph of – say – a garden pavilion is about the garden pavilion but is also partly about the photographer’s style. I have noticed, for instance, that you can often guess the photographer when looking at shots of interiors on National Trust Images. Photographers like Andreas von Einsiedel, for instance, have such a distinctive style that he seems to be adding something ‘of himself’ to the photographs which are ostensibly ‘only’ objective images of particular rooms (and indeed we like to think that all of the photographers NTI use add a certain quelque chose to their images).

    And yes the NT very much sees itself as a ‘public’ organisation.

    Helen, the gestation of the Royal Pavilion was very complicated, reflecting perhaps the mercurial, almost Michael Jackson-like character of Prince Regent. The book ‘The Making of the Royal Pavilion’ by John Morley (http://amzn.to/12xlwfL) is an interesting source about that process. Between about 1815 and 1822 the ‘design team’, as we would now call it, included the Prince (latterly King), John Nash (the architect), John and Frederick Crace (the interior decorators) and Robert Jones (who worked for the Craces). The Prince seems to have been a very ‘hands-on’ sort of client, constantly changing his mind, revisiting finished schemes, and adding new projects – dream client and nightmare client rolled into one :)

  8. Andrew Says:

    Perhaps I need to be a bit clearer. I am talking about exact copies of artworks: for example, a photograph of a painting or etching or drawing, where there is little or no compositional input from the photographer (other than trying to take the most faithful possible picture of the original artwork). Photographs of sculptures or architecture or gardens or interiors are (in my mind at least) in another category, due in no small part to the creative input of the photographer, much closer to a painting or a drawing.

  9. Toby Worthington Says:

    All this talk about copyrights, along with the images of Robert Jones’s panels, calls to mind a visit to the Royal Pavilion at Brighton
    several years ago, when I stood before one of the banqueting room
    walls with a small spiral notebook in hand. Within seconds, the piercing sounds of a siren filled the air, and I saw advancing towards me with great purpose an enraged guide who demanded
    to look at my little book, insisting that she saw me sketching
    (which was strictly forbidden) rather than writing (grudgingly allowed). In another part of the room, an elderly female tourist
    had begun to faint from the sound of the hand held siren. Chaos
    ensued, as you can imagine.

  10. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Toby, that sounds awful. I had a similar run-in with an officious room steward at Kenwood House once over a notebook, although that one wasn’t brandishing a siren. The overly harsh enforcement of museum rules can really spoil a visit.

  11. style court Says:

    Emile, on a loosely related note, have you visited this place? :

    http://pagodaparis.com

  12. style court Says:

    Oh and Toby, your experience calls to mind some sort of museum-based reality program :) The hand held siren really seems over the top, on the institution’s part. Imagine if the elderly visitor had injured herself falling.

  13. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Courtney, no I hadn’t. A fascinating building, perhaps fitting into the inter-war popularity of things Chinese? Did Coco Chanel derive some of the inspiration for her famous rue Cambon apartment from C.T. Loo’s belaquered interiors, I wonder?

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