Public Catalogue Foundation

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The Public Catalogue Foundation
Abbreviation PCF
Formation 2003
Type Charity
Purpose To create a complete record of the national collection of oil, tempera and acrylic paintings in public ownership and make that accessible to the public.
Region served
United Kingdom

The Public Catalogue Foundation, a registered charity,[1] has between 2003 and 2012 digitised all the circa 210,000 oil paintings in public ownership in the United Kingdom, and made the paintings viewable by the public through a series of affordable catalogues and, in partnership with the BBC, the "Your Paintings" website. Works by some 40,000 painters are included.[2]

The catalogues and website allow readers to see a colour illustration and short description of every painting in the UK's national collections. This information has significant educational benefits and constitutes the building blocks for later art historical research. Revenue from catalogue sales made by collections will be dedicated to the conservation and restoration of oil paintings in their care. Coverage includes national and local museums and council collections, paintings in universities, bishop's palaces of the Church of England, hospitals, the properties owned by the National Trust, and some other private institutions such as the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge universities. The collections of bodies such as Arts Council England, English Heritage and the Government Art Collection are included.[3] However the Royal Collection is not included.

The project was originally conceived as a series of printed catalogues, but before these were completed it was clear that a website was the best way to reach the widest public, a key aim of the project. The PCF now hopes to extend the project to cover public sculpture, for which funding is being sought from the Heritage Lottery Fund and other sources.

Catalogue series[edit]

Of the 210,000 oil paintings in public ownership in the UK, around 80% are not on public view. Many are held in storage or civic buildings without routine public access. At the same time, many of these collections have incomplete cataloguing records; very few have more than a small proportion of their paintings photographed, and hardly any collection has a complete illustrated catalogue of its oil paintings in book form or online. Since 2003, The Public Catalogue Foundation has been working to rectify this through a series of colour catalogues.

The Oil Paintings in Public Ownership book series is published by The PCF mainly on a large collection or county-by-county basis. A volume brings together from a county all the oil, acrylic and tempera paintings in museum collections, together with paintings held in civic buildings such as town halls, libraries, universities, hospitals and fire stations. Each county catalogue contains a colour photograph and basic information about each painting. All paintings are reproduced regardless of quality or condition.

The PCF’s first catalogue was published in June 2004, and the series is now complete in 85 volumes (see partial list below).

Your Paintings[edit]

The Your Paintings website facilitated the discovery of this previously unknown portrait of Olivia Boteler Porter painted by Anthony van Dyck.

In January 2009 a partnership with the BBC was announced with the aim to place the entire catalogue of publicly owned oil paintings online by 2012.[4] On 4 October 2012 it was announced that the project had indeed photographed every painting that it intended to and all 210,000 would shortly be available.[5]

The Public Catalogue Foundation worked with the BBC to put all of the UK's publicly owned oil paintings online, in a section of the BBC website, Your Paintings,[6] launched in 2011. The PCF completed the digitisation of the entire national collection and celebrated their success in February 2013.[7] An innovative crowdsourcing project, Your Paintings Tagger,[8] also went online in 2011, to generate the metadata necessary to make Your Paintings fully searchable. The high quality digital files, however, have not been made available to the public, and paintings on the BBC site can only be 'saved' as a 'personal collection' on the site, not downloaded.

In March 2013 the BBC revealed that an unknown painting by Anthony van Dyck had been discovered because of the Your Paintings website. The painting of Olivia, wife of Endymion Porter had been discovered on-line and although it was previously thought it to be in the style of the Van Dyck, experts now agreed that the painting was an unknown original. Olivia, the subject of the painting, who died in 1663 was a lady-in-waiting to Queen consort Henrietta Maria.[9] She had married Endymion Porter who was a patron of Anthony van Dyck. A Culture Show TV programme noted that these paintings had not previously been published and it was the Your Paintings web site that had allowed this attribution.[10]


The earlier catalogues published are listed below. For a full listing, see here:

Revenues generated from catalogue sales at participating collections is nearly all used for painting restoration and gallery education. The project's overall income is used to help fund upcoming catalogues, as most funding is generated from private donations.

Board of trustees[edit]


  1. ^ Public Catalogue Foundation, Registered Charity no. 1096185 at the Charity Commission
  2. ^ PCK website, "What we do", accessed, 16 August, 2014
  3. ^ Your Paintings website, "About us", "What qualifies a painting to be in the UK national collection?", accessed, 16 August, 2014
  4. ^ Holmwood, Leigh (28 January 2009). "BBC to put every publicly owned oil painting in the UK online". Retrieved 8 September 2009. 
  5. ^ Public paintings quest completed, BBC News, 4 October 2012, accessed 9 March 2013
  6. ^ "Your Paintings". BBC Online. Retrieved 30 June 2011. 
  7. ^ "Your Paintings project lights up Norwich Castle". BBC News. 9 February 2013. Retrieved 15 March 2013. 
  8. ^ "Your Paintings Tagger". The Public Catalogue Foundation. Retrieved 30 June 2011. 
  9. ^ Van Dyck painting 'found online', BBC News, 9 March 2013, accessed 9 March 2013
  10. ^ Culture Show, first shown 9 March 2013, accessed 9 March 2013

External links[edit]