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A year ago this month, Art UK posted Art Detective’s first public discussion. Since March 2014, the site’s goal has been to add to the records of the 212,000 publicly owned oil paintings available for search on Art UK. Specialists, enthusiasts, artists and collections can pose questions, add to or correct information about these artworks. 

On our first birthday, let’s look back at the successes of the past year. In twelve short months, we’ve started 123 discussions. At the time of writing, we’ve closed 59, many more have benefited from smart additions and new discussions are being proposed every day.

Working together, over 2,000 public users have identified the coat of arms in a painting, puzzled out the name of a First World War soldier (leading to a range of further discoveries) and attributed five paintings to the same artist in a single recommendation. In the last few weeks alone, a painting has been identified as a nineteenth-century copy of a Dutch Master and the painter of a young Churchill has been the subject of fruitful discussion.

Apollo Crowning a Poet and Giving Him a Consort

Apollo Crowning a Poet and Giving Him a Consort 1570s

Jacopo Tintoretto (c.1518–1594)

National Trust, Kingston Lacy

Some discussions reveal new information before they’re even made public, with unarguable evidence and strong research. Others, like this one about the subjects of a Tintoretto painting, celebrate their first birthday alongside Art Detective! Considering that this is a debate that has been rumbling along offline amongst experts for a long while, we’re not expecting it to be solved too swiftly. We are however really pleased with the keen eyes and insight that users have brought to the painting.

Unidentified Mill Scene

Unidentified Mill Scene c.1820–1825

British (English) School

Manchester Art Gallery

Active or closed, many discussions come from the enquiring minds of single users, but collections can also propose discussions themselves. Discoveries made through Art Detective have regularly provided additions to artist and painting records of many collections. A discussion first proposed by Manchester Art Gallery, about the location depicted in this unidentified mill scene, has prompted a long conversation that continues to bear fruit. It’s one of the 62 public discussions that continue to inform, surprise and make Art Detective a valuable platform. If your collection has any paintings with gaps in its records or dates you’d like to clarify, this public forum is a proven resource.

Perhaps a unique benefit to Art Detective is the number of copyright leads that crop up through discussion. Sometimes a discussion can lead to a contact for a previously unknown artist or suggest an area to search for a family member of a deceased painter. Often relatives of artists, sometimes even the artists themselves, contribute useful biographical information and painting descriptions to the site directly. In both cases, collections are better placed to recognise the creators and copyright holders of publicly owned work.

As Art Detective becomes a toddler, we continue to look for new discussions that improve the information attached to the nation’s oil paintings: a noble aim for any one-year-old. Do you have questions or thoughts about a painting in a public collection? Propose a discussion!

If you would like to contribute to Art Detective, register here: artuk.org/artdetective

For collections that are already registered and need to confirm login details, please contact: artdetective@artuk.org

Edward Stone, Art UK Project Editor