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Nearly 100 Artworks from the Bethlem Collection Online

Nearly 100 paintings from the Bethlem collection can be seen online thanks to a hugely ambitious project by the BBC and the Public Catalogue Foundation.

The United Kingdom’s entire collection of oil paintings in public ownership is now available for viewing on the Your Paintings website.

In total 3,217 venues took part in the project and there are 211,861 paintings on the site.

The works from Bethlem were professionally photographed and have been made available alongside details about each work. Although this is just a tenth of our collection, it includes every work we own in oil, acrylic or tempura, and can be explored through the Your Paintings site here.

While some of these works can be seen by visitors to the museum, others are in store, and the Your Paintings website will make our collection visible to a much wider audience. Paintings include the bright canvases of Elise J. M. Pacquette (née Warriner), which featured in the artist’s degree show focusing on anorexia nervosa. The size of these striking paintings means that only one is generally on display. Other works featured include those of Marion Patrick whose paintings of isolated children have previously featured in In the Frame, Bryan Charnley and Stanley Lench.

Members of the public are invited to ‘tag’ the nation’s paintings so that other users of the Your Paintings website can search the catalogue for subjects that interest them, such as mental health.

We know our own collection fairly well – and thumbnails of all our works have been browsable on our website for some time – but what is new is the unexpected juxtapositions thrown up by searching across collections of works in oil.

We have always known, for example, that a search on the term ‘aspiration’ would return the work of art of that title by Charles Sims, RA (1873-1928) in our collection. We didn’t know, however, about Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery’s work of the same title by G.F. Watts, nor of Audrey Knight’s Aspirations at Worcester or of Timothy Jarvis’ Age of Aspirations in Leicestershire.

Similarly, a search for ‘indecision’ throws up the work we know about by Bryan Charnley, but also one we had never heard of in Plymouth by Andrea Landini; and searching ‘depression’ brings up not only Marion Patrick’s Depression I and Depression II, but also a work by Jock McFadyen, located in Glasgow, simply titled Depression.

The fact that a search for ‘depression’ also brings up an artwork on the subject of the Great Depression serves as a reminder that search results need to be treated with care. To take another example, searching for ‘anger’ returns five pages’ worth of paintings with that word in their titles, including Elise Pacquette (née Warriner)’s The Anger Within from the Archives & Museum’s collection and a few other relevant results, among them Roy Billingham’s Chaos, Anger, Frustration, Carel Weight’s The Seven Deadly Sins – Anger and Dez Quarréll’s Into the Anger Chamber. It also returns a page of paintings which have been subject-tagged with this term by visitors to the site. However, these pages of results are mostly filled with paintings with titles including words which incorporate anger such as ‘danger’, ‘stranger’, ‘Granger’, ‘Angers’ (the French city), ‘hanger’, ‘doppelganger’ and ‘tangerine’.

It would be difficult to search the database in such a way as to ensure that all irrelevant results are filtered out. Yet this very fact opens up possibilities for serendipitous discovery. Our search on ‘anger’ is a good case in point, yielding – quite by accident – paintings on the subject of Christ driving the money-changers from the Temple by Il Garofalo, the school of Jacopo Bassano, Salvator Rosa, Stanley Spencer and William Roberts.

In any event, we here at the Archives & Museum are delighted by the public visibility of works in our collection which results from their inclusion in the Your Paintings website.