Art UK is five! We launched the platform on 24th February 2016, and five years on it's fascinating to look back and see what's changed.
First of all, who could have predicted that we would spend a year in the midst of a global pandemic, with museums, galleries and cultural spaces shut? We hope that Art UK has been some consolation in those dark times, bringing art to you digitally when it's not available in the flesh, and supporting collections as they are forced to stay closed.
When Art UK was launched it was with over 200,000 oil paintings from the nation's collection. But although Art UK is a database, it isn't a static archive – it's a living, growing entity and as such we've nurtured it over these past five years, constantly updating the site with new sections and functionality.
Five things that are new to Art UK
1. Perhaps the biggest change has come in the type of artworks you can see on the site. Back in 2016 it was oil paintings and acrylics.
Our sculpture project (interrupted by the pandemic, but still ongoing) has added over 40,000 sculptures so far – both from collections and in public spaces.
We've also recently decided to add photography, and hope to expand more as we continue to grow.
2. In 2020 we launched a tool for the public to create their own online exhibitions, called Curations. We're excited by the range of ways that they've been used through lockdowns to highlight postponed or cancelled exhibitions. On our fifth birthday though, here's a series of aptly named 'take five' Curations!
3. In early 2021 we went live with the first of our new learning resources. This is a major new step for Art UK, and will help us fulfil the organisational mission of sharing art for enjoyment, learning and research.
4. We have recently expanded our topics to include subjects often overlooked in art history. For example, you can now explore LGBTQ subjects – we are continuously adding more works to the topics, so it's an ongoing process.
5. We'll continue to make it easier to search for art on the site. We have a few things in the pipeline, but one recent addition is the ability to search artworks by date.
Five Art Detective discoveries
Art Detective is just one way for the public to get involved with Art UK, improving the data on our national collection. That could be in the form of artist attribution, identifying the sitter, or perhaps recognising a landscape.
In 2020 alone our Art Detective team made hundreds of updates to the site. Here are just five of our major Art Detective discoveries from over the years.
1. Art Detective discovered a Van Dyck masterpiece in Liverpool...
2. This painting of a Colonel had been rescued from a skip!
3. This painting led us to put together an artist's maiden and married names. Plus Mary Winifrid Smith was a friend of Agatha Christie...
4. Here's an example where an Art Detective discussion has found the only painting by an artist in a UK public collection – in this instance, it's by Hendrick de Somer.
5. In this mystery, Art Detectives managed to track down the artist, Robert Brown, and deduce that the work was a self-portrait.
What's also interesting is what you, the public, have chosen to look at! Here's a quick rundown of some of the top five categories on the site.
Five most viewed artworks
1. S. J. Peploe's Little Nude is our most-viewed individual artwork. Possibly having the word 'nude' in the title may have increased the traffic to the work, but paintings by the Scottish Colourist are always worth a longer look.
2. This portrait of Queen Charlotte Sophia, wife of George III, has been a perennial favourite among our audience. Firstly she was featured in a story about monarchs of colour due to the possibility of her having African ancestry. She's recently seen a resurgence in popularity thanks to the Netflix series Bridgerton, where she's one of the characters.
3. La belle dame sans merci shows a scene from the poem by John Keats and has been used by schools looking at the poem and responses to it.
4. L. S. Lowry's V. E. Day was clicked on many times last year, particularly around the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War in Europe, on 8th May.
5. Sir Thomas Parker of Ratton may be a strange choice for a top-five place, but take a closer look and you'll see why Reddit users have been going wild for his ostentatious footwear!
Five most viewed artists
1. Vanessa Bell – the artist has been a perennial crowd-pleaser on Art UK. We like to champion her own artistic story, even though she's probably better known as Virginia Woolf's sister.
3. Euan Uglow – he found popularity in the wider press as an old friend of Cherie Blair, but Uglow's works were meticulously created.
4. J. M. W. Turner – so famous he's now on banknotes, Turner is one of the finest British artists of all time.
5. Francis Bacon – initially controversial, but now considered one of the masters of twentieth-century British art.
Five most viewed stories
We like to tell diverse stories at Art UK, and hopefully you like reading them too! It seems that a lot of our readers also like lists... Here are our most-viewed stories over the past five years, clickable so you can read them too (if you haven't already).
As you can see, whether you're an art expert or a beginner there's so much to explore on Art UK. So here's to the next five years... and beyond!
Andrew Shore, Head of Content at Art UK