On Monday, the J. Paul Getty Trust launched their Open Content Program, making more than 4,600 high-quality images of artwork available for free online. The digital images -- of paintings by Van Gogh, drawings by Rembrandt, and watercolors by Dürer -- had already fallen into the public domain, but the Getty's program makes their digital reproductions much easier to use on the web.
They're not the first museum to put so many images online this year. In the spring, the Rijksmuseum opened 125,000 digital images for use, with plans to digitize an additional 40,000 images from its archive every year.
When museums emancipate images like this, the benefits don't only redound upon the researchers, teachers, and students who can use and show high-resolution art in their books, lectures and papers. Putting images online helps anyone who wants to make a point with pictures, whether on their website or Facebook profile, on a t-shirt or, as a Rijksmuseum curator told the New York Times, on special Rembrandt toilet paper.
Below, we've listed the museums and research institutions that have large, high-quality, free-to-use collection of historically or aesthetically notable images online.
Rijks Studio The digital image collection of the Netherlands's state museum, Rijks Studio encompasses 125,000 images right now and will expand until it includes the Rijksmuseum's more than one million holdings. The museum's holdings extend to the 21st century, but its online offerings are especially rich in the Dutch Golden Age artists, like Rembrandt and Vermeer.
NASA The American space agency makes both astronomy and historical photos available from the multimedia page of its website; above, Neil Armstrong and David Scott in the Gemini 8 capsule.
National Gallery of Art The American gallery's collection includes 25,000 images, including works by Leonardo, Monet and Winslow Homer.
Flickr Commons One of the best-known of the web's free galleries, the Commons collates photography with "no known copyright restrictions" from institutions around the world. Its archive is predominantly from English-speaking countries, but that includes both Australia and New Zealand's National Libraries. Flickr Commons also represents collections based in the United Kingdom, Scandinavia, and eastern Europe.
Wikipedia Featured Pictures That Wikimedia Commons has a huge library of free pictures is fairly common knowledge for Internet image sniffers, but Wikipedia's page devoted to "Featured Pictures" remains little known. "This page highlights images that the Wikipedia community finds beautiful, stunning, impressive, or informative," it reads, which means it stays updated as Wikipedia editors find gorgeous high-quality images on the site. Its are and history sections are impressive, as are its sections devoted to flora and fauna photography.
And the most charming among these may be the Washington State Coastal Atlas. In 2006 and 2001, and during the 1990s and 1970s, the state of Washington photographed its lengthy shoreline from the air. Those photographs, in the public commons, are now linked together and displayed at the state's Coastal Atlas. The collection can be navigated by city, county, or landmark. You can download high-resolution versions of the images and compare how the the coastline appeared through the different iterations of photography.
Know of any other bountiful image libraries on the web? Let us know below, or on Twitter at @yayitsrob.
The Washington State Coastal Atlas & NASA galleries via Charlie Loyd.