The Nationalmuseum in Stockholm, Sweden’s premier art collection, has released over 3000 images of its works in Wikimedia Commons. It joins other institutions which have announced their own open access policies in recent years, including another major Scandinavian collection, the Statens Museum for Kunst in Copenhagen, and the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, which likewise chose to release its images through Wikimedia Commons.
The Walters Art Museum in Baltimore–one of our Department’s CTPhD Program partners–was among the first museums to make images of many of the artworks in its collection freely available to the public way back in 2012. Ever since that time, you have been able to download high-resolution images of its works either on the museum’s own website or in Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons (CC BY-SA) license.
Now, the Walters has taken the unprecedented step of waiving copyright altogether and dedicating these images to the public domain (CC0). There are no longer any restrictions whatsoever on your use of these images. You don’t even have to say that they came from the Walters (although in general, crediting the source of an image is still considered a best practice whenever possible).
Note that this new policy does not apply to images of every artwork in the Walters’s collection. All of the images released into the public domain are of artworks that are themselves also in the public domain. If an artwork is copyrighted, the Walters does not have the authority to place images of it in the public domain. This means that most art made since about 1900 is still under copyright, so those images are not made available here. However, since the Walters focuses mainly on earlier periods, this restriction excludes a relatively small number of the works in its collection.
Several interesting and potentially useful online image collections have launched recently, including:
- War Art in the National Archives (UK): World War II-era art and propaganda from Britain, now available in Wikimedia Commons.
- Farm Security Administration Photograph Collection: Rare FSA photographs from the 1930s and 1940s, recently rediscovered in the New York Public Library.
- Machiel Kiel Photographic Archive: The Dutch scholar’s photos of Islamic and Christian architectural monuments in the former Ottoman Empire (modern-day Turkey and the Balkans).
The Walters Art Museum in Baltimore has made more than 19,000 images of works in its collection, along with all of their associated information, freely available to the public through Wikimedia Commons.
Wikimedia Commons, part of the Wikimedia Foundation (which also oversees Wikipedia), is an online repository of free-access images and other media files. All such images donated to Wikimedia by an institution like the Walters are considered to be in the public domain, and are intended for free and unrestricted use for any purpose.
Since last year, the Walters’ newly redesigned website has also allowed visitors to download high-resolution images of its works.
The Archives of American Art at the Smithsonian Institution has donated nearly 300 Works Progress Administration (WPA) photographs from the 1930s to Wikimedia Commons, the image collection affiliated with Wikipedia. These include portraits of artists like Charles Alston and Arshile Gorky, and photos showing artists at work on public murals and other Great Depression-era projects. You can view the complete collection here.
As works created explicitly for the Federal Government, most WPA works are not copyrightable and have therefore always been in the public domain. That means you can legally download and use these high-resolution images however you want, without having to seek permission.
Read more about this Smithsonian-Wikimedia collaboration here.