What is Art Detective?

Art Detective is a free-to-use network connecting the UK’s public art collections with providers of specialist knowledge. Providers include academics, the art trade, specialist curators, retired practitioners and informed members of the public.

Art Detective was created by Art UK (as the Public Catalogue Foundation) in collaboration with the University of Glasgow. In its first year it was funded by a grant from Arts Council England, and is now overseen by a Steering Panel of senior figures in museums, academia and the art world.

The exercise of data gathering and digitisation undertaken by Art UK revealed that a significant proportion of artworks were without reliable information about, for example, artist attribution, identification of sitters and production date. It also revealed that curators often lacked the resources or specialist knowledge to access the expertise they needed to address these problems. Art Detective is helping to improve knowledge and spark debate about these artworks.

How does Art Detective work?

Anybody can register to join Art Detective. Questions from collections or suggestions from informed members of the public, once submitted, are read by Art UK. Some proposed discussions may not become public discussions as Art UK or the collection that own the work may be able to provide the conclusion. Some of these enquiries will become public discussions, offered to groups of Art Detective users with a specialist interest. Groups cover such subject matter as British Portraits and Military History. Each group has a Group Leader appointed by the Panel. The Panel is a number of specialists who have been appointed by Art UK. The Group Leaders will have an established reputation in the area and will be responsible for leading discussions through to a conclusion. Firm or qualified conclusions will then be sent to the respective collection that owns the artwork. Art UK will conclude a discussion with the actions that might include amending the data on Art UK.

Anyone is able to follow the discussions and there is no need to register if you only want to view the discussions. Broad public involvement – and contributions – are sought.

How are collections involved?

Each collection that has helped create the Art UK website will be encouraged to use Art Detective: to ask questions about their works if needed, or to answer queries about their works. Collections are provided with a username and password in order to use the site. Please click here to find out more.

As a member of the public, can I contribute to Art Detective?

If you have informed knowledge about an artwork displayed on Art UK, or an artist with work on Art UK, we encourage you to contribute to Art Detective – by either making a comment on an existing discussion, or suggesting your own discussion.

Your suggested discussion will be received by Art UK team, who will get back to you in due course. If a discussion is started as a result of your contribution, you will be able to follow its progress from your dashboard when you log in. Please note that it may be several months before the research can be completed and a conclusion reached. In some cases, a firm conclusion may never be achieved.

What sort of information should be submitted to Art Detective?

It is important any contributions made to Art Detective are supported by an identified source, or by unique or specialist knowledge. We welcome information such as clues as to whom unidentified sitters may be, artist attributions, an execution date of an artwork, or the subject matter. Whether you spot a mistake, or have an interesting story to tell, all submissions are welcome.

Can I obtain a high resolution image of an artwork under discussion?

Collections own the rights to the high resolution images of the artworks shown on Art UK. Also, the artwork itself may be in copyright if the artist is alive, or died within the last 70 years. The collection is free to upload a high resolution image to their artwork’s discussion page if they feel comfortable doing so. However, some collections may not want to share a high resolution artwork image on Art Detective, because it would then be free for anyone to download. Alternately, collections may agree to share a high resolution image with specific individuals only: Art UK can help put collections in touch with these individuals at the collection’s request.

As a member of the public, can I use Art Detective to seek advice on artworks in my possession?

Art Detective was set up to improve knowledge about the UK’s art collection, as displayed on the Art UK website. We cannot answer enquiries about artworks that do not appear on the Art UK website. Advice on how to research artworks can be found on our resources page. Local museums may also be able to help with this. If you want to know how much an artwork you own is worth, please contact a reputable auction house.  

I sent an Art Detective enquiry before, as an online form on the BBC website. May I resend it using the new system?

Through the previous version of Art UK (Your Paintings), Art UK received over 8,000 individual messages from members of the public, artists and their families, collections and art enthusiasts and experts. The quality of the enquiries was outstanding, some new attributions were made, information shared with collections and records improved. Art UK are continuing to make sure all enquiries are dealt with but did not have the resources to reply to everyone. 

Will my artwork description or artist biography be added to Art UK?

With limited resources at present, we are storing artwork descriptions and artist biographies. We hope to add them to Art UK in the near future.

What is NICE artworks?

NICE artworks (the National Inventory of Continental European artworks) is a newly researched online catalogue of pre-1900 continental European artworks in the UK’s public museums and galleries, available at http://vads.ac.uk/collections/NIRP/index.php. It is being created by the National Inventory Research Project (NIRP), which has been based at the University of Glasgow since 2003 (for further information and contact details see http://www.gla.ac.uk/schools/cca/research/instituteofarthistory/projectsandnetworks/nationalinventoryresearchproject/).

NIRP was initiated in 2001 by the National Gallery and a committee of regional curators to address the decline in collection research in the UK’s regional museums and to make collection information more widely accessible. NIRP raises funds to employ qualified art historians to work with curators across the UK to help research their old master artworks in detail. Many NIRP researchers have gone on to curatorships in major museums.

NIRP has worked increasingly closely with Art UK over the past ten years. NIRP’s rich collection data is now accessible via Art UK and Art UK has provided many digital images to illustrate NICE artworks. NIRP staff have been involved in creating Art UK projects such as Art UK, Art UK Tagger and Art Detective. All these projects aim to increase public accessibility to the nation’s artworks and to involve the public in improving information about them.

How do I report a comment?

To report a comment simply click the exclamation mark which appears when your cursor is hovering over a comment. The exclamation mark will turn orange to indicate the comment has been reported. Art UK review any reported comments and can remove them if necessary. The reported comments will only be checked during office hours (Monday to Friday, 9am–5.30pm).

I want to stop receiving emails from Art Detective. How do I change my settings?

You will receive email notifications from Art Detective if you are following a group, following a discussion, or if a response is posted to a discussion you proposed. You can tell if you are watching a group or a discussion by signing into Art Detective, and going on to the individual group page, or on the discussions pages. If the ‘eye’ symbol is green it means you are watching the group or discussion. Click the ‘eye’ to unwatch groups or discussions.

If you are watching a group, you will automatically watch any new discussions that are posted which are assigned to that group.

I proposed a discussion but can’t see it on the Discussions section of the website. Where is it?

When a discussion is proposed it does not go live immediately. Proposed discussions are reviewed by staff at Art UK. This is because many proposed discussions do not need to become public discussions: for example, the question may be answered by Art UK directly without the need to involve the collection. Sometimes the collection gets involved at the ‘propose a discussion’ stage and determine that there is no need for a public discussion – the case is ‘open and shut’. A discussion become public only if the collection agree. This is because collection records often contain more information than is shown on Art UK.

To see the status of proposed discussions you will need to be signed in. Sign into Art Detective, then hover your cursor over the red circular icon in the top-right corner. A menu will appear. Click ‘Proposed discussions’. Please note that completed proposed discussions will be removed from this menu. Proposed discussions are completed either when the discussion is made public, or if Art UK believe the query has been resolved.