Art UK is a registered charity in the United Kingdom, previously known as the Public Catalogue Foundation. It was founded for the project, completed between 2003 and 2012, of obtaining sufficient rights to enable the public to see images of all the approximately 210,000 oil paintings in public ownership in the United Kingdom. Originally the paintings were made accessible through a series of affordable book catalogues, mostly by county. Later the same images and information were placed on a website in partnership with the BBC, originally called Your Paintings, hosted as part of the BBC website. The renaming in 2016 coincided with the transfer of the website to a stand-alone site. Works by some 40,000 painters held in over 3,000 collections are now on the website.
Future plans include a similar project to cover sculptures in public collections, which will begin in 2017. From June 2016 museums and other organisations will be able to upload images of their watercolour paintings, drawings and prints to the Art UK website; collections often hold far more of these than oil paintings.
The catalogues and website allow readers to see an illustration, normally in colour, and short description of every painting in the UK's national collections. This information has significant educational benefits and constitutes the building blocks for later art historical research. Revenue from catalogue sales made by collections is dedicated to the conservation and restoration of oil paintings in their care. Coverage includes national and local museums and council collections, paintings in universities, bishop's palaces of the Church of England, hospitals, the properties owned by the National Trust, and some other private institutions such as the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge universities. The collections of bodies such as Arts Council England, English Heritage and the Government Art Collection are included. However the Royal Collection is not included.
Of the 210,000 oil paintings in public ownership in the UK, around 80% are not on public view. Many are held in storage or civic buildings without routine public access. At the same time, many of these collections have incomplete cataloguing records; very few have more than a small proportion of their paintings photographed, and hardly any collection has a complete illustrated catalogue of its oil paintings in book form or online. Since 2003, The Public Catalogue Foundation has been working to rectify this through a series of colour catalogues. Before these were completed it was clear that a website was the best way to reach the wider public, a key aim of the project, so a combined approach was adopted.
The Oil Paintings in Public Ownership book series is published by The PCF mainly on a collection or county-by-county basis. Each volume brings together all the oil, acrylic and tempera paintings in a county's museum collections, together with paintings held in civic buildings such as town halls, libraries, universities, hospitals and fire stations. Each county catalogue contains a colour photograph and basic information about each painting. All paintings are reproduced regardless of quality or condition.
The PCF’s first catalogue was published in June 2004, and the series is now complete in 85 volumes (see partial list below).
Collaboration with BBC
The Public Catalogue Foundation worked with the BBC to put all of the UK's publicly owned oil paintings online.
In January 2009 a partnership with the BBC was announced with the aim to place the entire catalogue of publicly owned oil paintings online by 2012. On 4 October 2012 it was announced that the project had photographed every painting that it intended to and all 210,000 would shortly be available.
A section of the BBC website, Your Paintings, was launched in 2011. The PCF completed the digitisation of the entire national collection and celebrated their success in February 2013. An innovative crowdsourcing project, Your Paintings Tagger, also went online in 2011, to generate the metadata necessary to make Your Paintings fully searchable. The high-quality[clarification needed] digital files, however, have not been made available to the public, and paintings on the BBC site can only be 'saved' as a 'personal collection' on the site, not downloaded.
In March 2013 the BBC revealed that an unknown painting by Anthony van Dyck had been discovered because of the Your Paintings website. The painting of Olivia, wife of Endymion Porter, had been discovered on-line and although it was previously thought it to be in the style of the Van Dyck, experts now agreed that the painting was an unknown original. Olivia, the subject of the painting, who died in 1663, was a lady-in-waiting to queen consort Henrietta Maria. She had married Endymion Porter, who was a patron of Anthony van Dyck. A Culture Show TV programme noted that the painting had not previously been published and it was the Your Paintings website that had allowed this attribution.
Hampshire (excluding Southampton): Oil paintings in public ownership in Hampshire, The Public Catalogue Foundation, Andrew Ellis, Sonia Roe, Elizabeth Vickers, 2007, ISBN9781904931164
Oil paintings in public ownership in Cornwall & the Isles of Scilly: under the Royal Patronage of Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Cornwall, The Public Catalogue Foundation, Sonia Roe, Steve Tanner, 2007, ISBN9781904931317
Revenues generated from catalogue sales at participating collections is nearly all used for painting restoration and gallery education. The project's overall income is used to help fund upcoming catalogues, as most funding is generated from private donations.