They’ve been on show at the Uffizi, the Met, the Louvre... now the greatest paintings on Earth are on display at an exciting new venue: your house. And you’re just a mouse-click away from a very private view...
Browse the world's great works of art from the comfort of your sofa. From left to right: the Mona Lisa (Louvre), Turner's Norham Castle, Sunrise (Tate) and the Ditchley Portrait (National Portrait Gallery)
Millions of us regularly head off on pilgrimages to enjoy inspirational art.
But what happens if you have a yearning to see Picasso in Paris, Goya in Spain, Pollock in New York or Vermeer in Amsterdam and don’t have the time or money to jump on a plane?
Despite the brilliant galleries we have in this country, so much of the world’s best art remains on display abroad.
And even if you do make it to your international museum of choice, you still have to deal with the huge crowds. Getting close to the world’s best art has, frankly, never been harder.
Until now. You can avoid all this pain by doing your art browsing from the comfort of your own sofa. We’ve carefully selected the best gallery websites that give you easy and instant access to breathtaking art from around the globe with just a simple click of you computer’s mouse.
And you can take advantage of the stunning technology on these websites: learn more about your favourite works from video analysis by leading experts; get closer to the art by taking ‘virtual tours’ of gallery rooms and by using incredible ‘zoom’ features.
You can even use these websites to print and frame a masterpiece. Time to put the kettle on and get browsing.
MUSÉE DU LOUVRE
The Louvre's website allows you to do what everyone secretly wishes they could do - to pull Leonardo da Vinci's famous Mona Lisa off the wall
What’s online? This is one of the world’s largest museums, boasting some 400,000 objects – of which 35,000 objects and around 140,000 drawings are catalogued online.
Whistlestop tour The Louvre’s website allows you to do what everyone secretly wishes they could do – to pull Leonardo da Vinci’s famous Mona Lisa off the wall. Not to steal it, of course, although that did happen back in 1911, besides which she is now firmly ensconced behind thick, bullet-proof glass and phalanxes of gawping tourists. No, here you can get up close and even flip the picture to look at the back, to see how this humble plank of poplar wood has been maintained over the 500 years since it was first painted.
TOP TIP Explore the reclining beauty that is La Grande Odalisque, painted by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres in 1814. It’s one of many works by the artist at the Louvre, and is carefully dissected here so that you can understand why he made her naked form so elegantly elongated.
TOP TIP: To see the definitive image of the Tower Of Babel, painted by Pieter Bruegel in 1563, type in 'Turmbau zu Babel' - the painting's name in German
What’s online? Vienna’s Museum of Art History houses one of the best collections of Italian, Flemish, Spanish and French art in Europe.
Whistlestop tour It boasts a clean and clear interface with faultless translation and an impressive 360- degree scrolling room feature, allowing you to quickly scan each gallery or pan up to the ornate ceilings, before zooming in on the gorgeous paintings themselves. Thanks to the Google Art Project, you are able to get up close and personal to some of the museum’s greatest masterpieces, such as the Crucifixion by Rogier van der Weyden from 1445. One of its hidden gems is the Wunderkammer, the so-called ‘cabinet of curiosities’, with more than 2,200 pieces.
TOP TIP To see the definitive image of the Tower Of Babel, painted by Pieter Bruegel in 1563, type in ‘Turmbau zu Babel’ – the painting’s name in German
METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART
TOP TIP: The Met has released 40,000 works from its collection as high-res images, available to download and use for any noncommercial purpose (why not use a 1917 nude by Amedeo Modigliani, as wrapping paper?)
What’s online? The Metropolitan Museum of Art (shortened to The Met) is the largest museum in the U.S., and 400,000 of its works of art are included in the online collection.
Whistlestop tour In addition to tours around the Met’s galleries (including Giotto, Pollock, Van Gogh), there are neatly themed groupings such as a treasure hunt for 11 works saved in WWII by the real Monuments Men (recently turned into a Hollywood film starring George Clooney). The Met showcases its new objects with beautiful close-up photography in its MetCollects section. Check out the delights of gallery 634, which hosts regular concerts, or simply bask in awe at over 600 online videos including interviews with African artists William Kentridge and El Anastui, as well as the Met’s own series of erudite talks and symposia.
TOP TIP The Met has released 40,000 works from its collection as high-res images, available to download and use for any noncommercial purpose (why not use a 1917 nude by Amedeo Modigliani, as wrapping paper?).
MUSEO DEL PRADO
TOP TIP: Full zoom is needed to appreciate Hieronymus Bosch's incredible Garden Of Earthly Delights. Over three panels this medieval triptych degenerates from a Biblical scene into a playground of frolicking nudes
What’s online? The home of Spain’s main national collection, including Iberian masterpieces by Goya, El Greco and Velazquez.
Whistlestop tour One click into Pradomedia (translated into Spanglish as ‘didactic materials’) reveals a wealth of content about its collection, with videos aplenty and 228 audioguides, including a gem in which Richard Hamilton discusses his love of Goya. In-depth commentary allows you to delve further into a number of iconic paintings (explaining why one of Dürer’s eyes in his self-portrait looks directly at you and the other stares beyond, for example), and you can download the Second Canvas app to see 14 more masterpieces and up-close details.
TOP TIP Full zoom is needed to appreciate Hieronymus Bosch’s incredible Garden Of Earthly Delights. Over three panels this medieval triptych degenerates from a Biblical scene into a playground of frolicking nudes, nymphs and fantastic creatures. In real life it’s impossible to see what’s painted on the reverse of the panels – revealed online as an unpopulated, scorched Earth.
Check out the wing of the gallery that's been given over to Alberto Giacometti's spindly bronze figures, including Walking Man
What’s online? The Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, located just north of Copenhagen, has an extensive collection of paintings, sculptures and videos dating from World War II – including pieces by Warhol, Picasso and Lichtenstein.
Whistlestop tour You too can take a (virtual) stroll around its idyllic outdoor sculpture park – featuring work by Moore, Miró, Serra and others – through a gallery of photos and 360-degree panoramas. The site itself is as cool and easy-to-navigate as the minimal, white building, with swooshy menus and intuitive controls. But the jewel of the collection is the Louisiana Channel, full of videos from the likes of David Hockney and Yoko Ono.
TOP TIP Check out the wing of the gallery that’s been given over to Alberto Giacometti’s spindly bronze figures, including Walking Man – and make use of the site’s beautiful videos to help you appreciate both the art and its environment
TOP TIP: Searching for Joseph Mallord William Turner brings up over 4,000 artworks. Chief among all his major oil paintings, however, is the unassuming, largely unfinished Norham Castle, Sunrise of 1845
What’s online? The website brings together the Tate’s four museums – in London (Tate Modern and Tate Britain), Liverpool and St Ives – that house our national collections of British art.
Whistlestop tour The Tate empire boasts one of the world’s best online art resources, numbering some 70,000 works including videos of artists such as Grayson Perry working in their studios. And this autumn, a swathe of its archive will be uploaded to use, free of copyright. Or for a fee, the website’s Art on Demand service allows you to have a copy of your favourite work printed, framed and delivered to your home.
TOP TIP Searching for Joseph Mallord William Turner brings up over 4,000 artworks, drawings and letters, the most comprehensive online catalogue of one of our greatest painter’s output. Chief among all his major oil paintings, however, is the unassuming, largely unfinished Norham Castle, Sunrise of 1845.
NATIONAL PORTRAIT GALLERY
TOP TIP: See the 'Ditchley Portrait' of Elizabeth I, which depicts the Virgin Queen standing astride the globe. Her rosy cheeks were whitened, creating the pale-skinned myth we all know
What’s online? The first portrait gallery in the world, when it opened in 1856, this iconic London gallery has almost 200,000 works online.
Whistlestop tour There is a great deal more to the online home of the NPG than grinning celebrities and historical portraits. A search can bring up anything from Princess Diana (47 portraits), policemen (13 pictures) or ready made tours under categories such as kings, actresses or writers. The exhibitions are well supplemented by curators’ tours in audio or video.
TOP TIP See the ‘Ditchley Portrait’ of Elizabeth I, which depicts the Virgin Queen standing astride the globe. There is a great page on the website about ‘The Changing Faces of Elizabeth I’, showing how her rosy cheeks were whitened, creating the pale-skinned myth we all know.
TOP TIP: Make sure you don't miss Rembrandt van Rijn's giant Night Watch (actually titled Militia Company Of District II Under The Command Of Captain Frans Banninck Cocq) - arguably the most important Dutch painting
What’s online? It’s the Dutch national museum, founded in 1800 and with a collection of one million objects (of which some 125,000 are available to view online).
Whistlestop tour The Rijksmuseum’s remit to tell the story of Dutch art is all present and correct, although the website also allows for some flights of fancy. Its great quality images are beautifully displayed and even searchable by clicking on a colour swatch, immediately bringing up works in similar hues. This intuitive and creative interface, called the Rijkstudio, lets you save favourites into sets and even cut and paste to create new works from old masters.
TOP TIP Make sure you don’t miss Rembrandt van Rijn’s giant Night Watch (actually titled Militia Company Of District II Under The Command Of Captain Frans Banninck Cocq) – arguably the most important Dutch painting. See Youtube for the viral video campaign featuring actors dressed as characters from the painting
GOOGLE ART PROJECT
Google has amassed information from museums in 40 countries and has posted 40,000 images online, while new features for reliving archived exhibitions or visiting historic sites are being added all the time
Google is now increasingly the font of all knowledge when it comes to the visual arts, offering unprecedented access to many of the world’s greatest art collections.
Museum View, like Street View, allows you to stroll through the corridors of Tate Britain’s new rehang of 500 years of British art, explore museums from Beijing to Budapest, or bump into the exhibits at the Lamborghini Museum in Italy.
A new app called Google Goggles – not to be confused with Google Glass – allows you to snap a work of art on your phone and find out what it is and who it is by (currently only available at the Metropolitan Museum in New York).
Altogether, Google has amassed information from museums in 40 countries and has posted 40,000 images online, while new features for reliving archived exhibitions or visiting historic sites such as Stonehenge or Pompeii are being added all the time.