52,438 High-Definition Images of Artworks Into the Public Domain
November 11, 2018 2:00 PM   Subscribe

The Art Institute of Chicago has placed high-definition images of 52,438 public-domain artworks onto its website (with magnification tools) under a CC0 license (no rights reserved), including The Great Wave, A Sunday on La Grand Jette (unfortunately not magnifiable to this extent), Nighthawks, Van Gogh's Self-Portrait, Warhol's Mao, and Two Sisters on the Terrace. (via Kottke)
posted by WCityMike (29 comments total)

This post was deleted for the following reason: Poster's Request -- loup

In a dark limestone cave hundreds of feet beneath my condo, a pale green light flicks on, dimly at first, then growing brighter, delineating the sinuous lines of a gargantuan mechanical apparatus. A low hum commences from the bowels of the machine. The hum grows louder as the great entity senses new prey.

The Darkstarchive awakens!

Must. Download. All.
posted by darkstar at 2:30 PM on November 11, 2018 [15 favorites]

This link worked for me.
posted by tommyD at 2:37 PM on November 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

hoooolyyyyyy shiiiiiiiit

(I live here and hit up the AIC at least once a year, but this is still holy-shit-worthy)

Everyone should go look at the Ivan Albright stuff (especially the piece he did for the film of Dorian Gray)
posted by tzikeh at 2:57 PM on November 11, 2018 [6 favorites]

Figure with Meat

Date: 1954

Artist: Francis Bacon

I see what he did there.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 3:00 PM on November 11, 2018 [4 favorites]

Nighthawks was on loan to the Amon Carter in Fort Worth 3 or 4 years ago when we were up there. It was a hell of a thing to behold in person. It’s bigger than I thought, & it positively glows.
posted by Devils Rancher at 3:05 PM on November 11, 2018 [6 favorites]

Aww yeah, The Great Wave is extremely my jam, I may have to make myself a print of that. Love me some public-domain art.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 3:16 PM on November 11, 2018 [2 favorites]

Their server seem to be having some issues.
posted by octothorpe at 3:22 PM on November 11, 2018 [6 favorites]

I wore a Great Wave pin on my lapel until the day after Election Day.

Thank you for this; it's fantastic. I could have slept overnight in the Art Institute; I was so in love with it.
posted by Countess Elena at 4:19 PM on November 11, 2018 [3 favorites]

How does the licensing work? If you download Nighthawks and use it in a film, that’s fine by the museum’s CC0 license but I assume Hopper’s estate or whoever would throw a fit.
posted by Monochrome at 4:44 PM on November 11, 2018 [3 favorites]

The AIC has been my favorite since I visited and photographed all the monkeys I could find in their art and posted them in on Twitter, and then their social media team congratulated me for finding all monkeys and shared this off-exhibit monkey painting with me.
posted by ChuraChura at 5:26 PM on November 11, 2018 [8 favorites]

To answer my own question, it looks like Nighthawks and other (post 1923, I assume) paintings are not CC0. On the bright side, they are full resolution and web savvy users can figure out how to download the multi-megapixel PNG just like the rest of the collection.
posted by Monochrome at 5:45 PM on November 11, 2018 [3 favorites]

Also don't miss The Met's online collection--more than 406,000 open-access images.
posted by prinado at 6:51 PM on November 11, 2018 [9 favorites]


I guess I know how I’ll be spending my day off tomorrow.
posted by darkstar at 6:53 PM on November 11, 2018

AIC was our annual field trip for art class through high school. Love that place. A lot of the images linked above are burned in my memory.
posted by caution live frogs at 7:33 PM on November 11, 2018

Site grinds to a halt as every computer vision lab in the world simultaneously winds up its own spiders because copyright.
posted by ethansr at 7:50 PM on November 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

High-def Ivan Albright. Nuff said.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:03 PM on November 11, 2018 [2 favorites]

That Dorian Gray painting is...truly...well, I guess “a work of art” is a phrase invented for these sorts of situations. Amazing mastery of technique, exquisite detail, and gripping subject.

It’s the first time I’ve ever seen some of these works in this high a detail and I am finding new sources of amazement in how incredibly skilled these masters were.
posted by darkstar at 8:18 PM on November 11, 2018

That Dorian Gray painting is...truly...well...

Albright's paintings fall into that "you definitely need to view them in person" category of art. Even high-def just doesn't convey the effect.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:51 AM on November 12, 2018 [3 favorites]

They have a wonderful collection of Joseph Cornell's box constructions.
posted by pasici at 4:20 AM on November 12, 2018 [3 favorites]

This is fantastic, I always visit when I go to Chicago; it's an amazing museum and resource. Also has a well stocked gift shop containing not just art you may actually want to buy but a well rounded selection of books on a huge variety of artists.
posted by diziet at 5:12 AM on November 12, 2018

posted by carter at 5:37 AM on November 12, 2018

I now have "Nighthawks" as my desktop background. This makes me happy. Thank you for this post.
posted by tallmiddleagedgeek at 6:12 AM on November 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

That Dorian Gray painting really sneaks up and hits you in the old eponymous 1945 movie that it was commissioned for. Years before I learned more about Ivan Albright.
posted by ovvl at 7:55 AM on November 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

Wow, this is beautiful and a worthwhile time sink. Good luck darkstar!
posted by Molesome at 8:06 AM on November 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

Thanks! I spent last night completing archiving and labeling about 150GB of material from three previous projects to clear the decks for this one.

Each image is about a third of a MB or so, on average, so the whole collection would take up less than half of a 50GB Blu-ray Disc. But it’s not a straightforward problem.

First, the site is not coded to facilitate this sort of third-party bulk archival. Rather than having all of their images located within discrete, easily navigated directories, they use algorithms to query for image files. The file is only served up to the query. I confess to being woefully out of date at coding these days, so I generally have to be more unorthodox about downloading in these cases.

Contrast with sites like Wikipedia that make a database dump of their millions of pages that you can download the whole shebang in one go. Or Gutenberg, who have their 50,000+ text files all in a discrete directory structure. (Jebus, don’t get me started on the insane way they structure it, though. The first thing I did with those files was reorganize the directory structure to actually be useful to a human.)

It’s not surprising that sites use css and some obfuscation to serve up data files. I’m sympathetic and I understand why they do it. In these cases, I restrict downloads to slower, one-at-a-time file accesses, so it doesn’t hammer their servers. It’s no more resource intensive than if a single human were manually mousing through the collection at a given time. With a throttled download rate, this can work out to about ten files per minute, or so. At which rate, the collection could be downloaded within a few weeks at a slow, steady pace — assuming no other issues arise.

But that’s just a technical matter, and relatively easily addressed.

The second issue is more of a challenge, really. Namely, that the images are exceedingly well-contextualized in their respective web pages. There are descriptions, provenance, and even multimedia files associated with each image that, now that I’ve seen them, I don’t want to separate from the images. Otherwise, the paintings become just so many clip-art files thrown into a folder, which I can’t bear to do. (The Darkstarchive is not soulless after all.)

So I’ve been mulling it over, and I might not try to pull down any bulk downloading from this site, at all. Instead, I might just put it on the list of a few sites that I visit regularly, and manually view (and save) maybe ten or twenty pages in one sitting. So it becomes more a living experience of archival, rather than a technical one.

Which, of course, is probably what the folks at ARTIC hoped for, to begin with.
posted by darkstar at 9:07 AM on November 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

Just so it’s clear, lest the above be misconstrued: I take pains to avoid violating copyrights, and don’t serve any downloaded files to third parties. This is not piracy, but a genuine — if admittedly quixotic — interest in preserving an offline copy of documents of high cultural importance, driven by somewhat embarrassing idiosyncrasy.
posted by darkstar at 9:20 AM on November 12, 2018

Most of these seem like medium-resolution to me. Even the best possible resolution is woefully inadequate to appreciate or even really view any of these works. On top of just the physical and light stuff you're missing, like, this Mondrian piece you can only barely start to make out the pencil marks and such you'd see in person. Still, wish it was more common to put out high res versions of these historical works. I'd rather someone see the best possible digital version than not see the work at all.

It occurs to me that viewing paintings like this basically filters them all into a mosaic or pointillism of pixels.
posted by GoblinHoney at 11:11 AM on November 12, 2018 [4 favorites]

van Gohs portrait is stunning. 1886 never looked to timeless
posted by shelfreport at 5:00 PM on November 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

No kidding, shelfreport! It’s the first time I’ve ever seen it in this detail and clarity. (I’ve never seen it in person.)

It’s gone from being very impressive and interesting stylistically to...mind blowing whoa!
posted by darkstar at 5:33 PM on November 15, 2018

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