Virtually visit your favourite Dutch galleries and museums

RNW archive

This article is part of the RNW archive. RNW is the former Radio Netherlands Worldwide or Wereldomroep, which was founded as the Dutch international public broadcaster in 1947. In 2011, the Dutch government decided to cut funding and shift RNW from the ministry of Education, Culture and Science to the ministry of Foreign Affairs. More information about RNW Media’s current activities can be found at https://www.rnw.org/about-rnw-media.

Ever wished you could see Van Gogh's sunflowers, but didn't have the cash to fly to the Netherlands? Or maybe you wanted to see Rembrandt's famous Night Watch, but Amsterdam was a little far to go. Now you can see both paintings - and thousands more - without ever leaving your home - or at least your internet connection. As of this week, 32,000 works of art from 151 art museums can be seen online in Google’s Art Project.

Dutch art is well represented in the project: the Van Gogh museum allowed all of its 161 paintings to be photographed by Google’s high-resolution camera; the Boijmans van Beuningen Museum in Rotterdam included 112 works; the Hague’s Gemeente Museum added 52. There is a virtual tour of the architectural treasures in Amsterdam's Royal Palace and 25 works from the city's Rijksmuseum (there would be more Dutch masters online if the museum was not in the middle of a large-scale refurbishment).

The cost of copyright
But there is a snag, galleries with more recent work, such as the Kröller-Müller, may face copyright issues. A Kröller-Müller spokesperson explained to de Volkskrant, “We have to pay for the rights for a lot of works. For a Mondrian for instance we have to pay a fortune to the copyright holder in the United States.” The gallery has only given permission for 15 works so far. 

Nevertheless, the museum’s director Lisette Pelsers is positive about the project on the Kröller-Müller website:

“Participation in the Art Project is a logical step for the museum, as it fits seamlessly with our view on public outreach: to bring as many people as possible – nationally and internationally, physically and virtually – into contact with the museum’s collection. Kröller-Müller worldwide; that was already the case for the visitors to our foreign exhibitions. With Google Art it now applies to all.”

Zooming in - 1000x
Martin Pronk of the Rijksmuseum attended Tuesday’s launch of the official Art Project website at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. “Look, here you see our Night Watch by Rembrandt online. Let’s zoom in.”

He points to the screen, “Can you see the man with the eye and that cap behind the riflemen? They say that is Rembrandt himself.” You can hardly see the little chap on the real painting, but these images have a resolution of 7 billion pixels, creating images with about 1,000 times more pixels than an average digital camera.

“You can even see a patch of light in his eye. And see the brush strokes around the eye. It’s larger than life. Fantastic. Here you can see what you can’t in a museum.”

Making art available to everyone
The Art Project began a year ago as a pilot. At first there were just 1000 works of art from 17 museums, most of them in the United States and western Europe. Now 40 countries are involved, from National Museum in Tokyo to the Hermitage in Saint Petersburg and from the British Tate Modern to the MoMa in New York.

“What we are doing is using technology optimally to promote culture and make it visible,” says Nelson Mattos, one of Google’s top technological people. “But we also want to make art available to everyone. From a flat in Tokyo to the slums in Rio de Janeiro: anyone with an internet connection can see the world’s masterpieces for free.”

And it's not just art that's on view. Using Google's Street View technology, the 'walk-through' feature of the project allows anyone to take a virtual tour through the Van Gogh Museum or the Royal Palace in Amsterdam.

No Mona Lisa
But not all art institutions are as enthusiastic about throwing open their doors. The Louvre is refusing to join the project, but Mona Lisa is keeping her lips tight shut as to the reason why. Other artists that are conspicuous by their absence are Picasso and Piet Mondrian.

“That’s a question of rights,” explains Amit Sood, who came up with the concept. “We have nothing to do with that. We never tell a museum what we want. They choose which art they want to show on the Art Project, but any museum that works with us has to conform to the desires and demands of the copyright holders.”