Oil paintings from the collections of Letchworth and Hitchin Museums can now be seen online, thanks to a joint effort by the BBC, The Public Catalogue Foundation (PCF) and a range of partners in developing the website bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings.
The UK holds in its public galleries and civic buildings more than 200,000 oil paintings spanning 600 years of art history – arguably the greatest national collection of its kind in the world. But a staggering 80% of these works are in storage or held behind closed doors, hidden from the very people who own them – the UK public.
The work on the collections in Letchworth and Hitchin museums, which are managed by North Herts District Council, began with the PCF photographing the paintings and printing a catalogue of oil paintings in public ownership in Hertfordshire in 2007. The PCF have since been working with the BBC and others to digitise these images and make these paintings available for everyone to enjoy. There are activities going on throughout the UK in February to celebrate the completion of this work.
The ‘Your Paintings’ website allows the public to get involved by tagging paintings. For more information on tagging, and to find out how you can get started, have a look at http://tagger.thepcf.org.uk/. Visitors to the ‘Your Paintings’ site can also curate their own gallery by selecting the paintings they enjoy and adding them to a slide show.
To find the Letchworth and Hitchin collections, visit bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings click on Galleries & Collections, and follow the links to the two museums, or visit the Council’s website at www.north-herts.gov.uk and search for Art Collection.
Letchworth and Hitchin museums closed to the public in September 2012 in order to prepare for a new North Hertfordshire Museum on part of the Hitchin Town Hall site. The new museum will be fully accessible with a lift to all floors, a large activity room, suitable for events for both adults and children, and accessible toilets for visitors. There will also be a café, run by Hitchin Town Hall Ltd. Staff and volunteers are currently cleaning and checking the thousands of objects in the museum collections ready for the new displays. There are monthly behind the scenes tours which visitors can book by contacting the museums.