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.
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.
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.
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.