Paris Musées announced yesterday that it is now offering 100,000 digital reproductions of artworks in the city’s museums as Open Access — free of charge and without restrictions — via its Collections portal. Paris Musées is a public entity that oversees the 14 municipal museums of Paris, including the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Petit Palais, and the Catacombs. Users can download a file that contains a high definition (300 DPI) image, a document with details about the selected work, and a guide of best practices for using and citing the sources of the image.
Masterpieces by renowned artists such as Rembrandt, Gustave Courbet, Eugène Delacroix, and Anthony van Dyck, among many other familiar and lesser-known names, can now be accessed and enjoyed digitally.
Discoverable in this visual trove is Paul Cézanne’s enchanting 1899 portrait of the French art dealer Ambroise Vollard, who appears rather restless after two weeks of perfectly immobile sittings for the artist. Despite the time he spent on the painting, Cézanne never declared it finished, but the work nevertheless bears his signature patches of color and luminous highlights throughout. While even the best reproduction will never compare to the experience of viewing a work of art in person, the high definition file that can be downloaded from the Paris Musées portal allows users who cannot visit the Petit Palais, where the painting resides, to become acquainted with Cézanne’s exquisite brushstrokes.
“Making this data available guarantees that our digital files can be freely accessed and reused by anyone or everyone, without any technical, legal or financial restraints, whether for commercial use or not,” reads a press release shared by Paris Musées.
At this stage, images available are of 2D artworks, such as paintings or photographs, that belong in the public sphere under a CC0 (Creative Commons Zero) license, which allows creators and owners of copyrighted or database-protected content to place those works in or as close as possible to the public domain. (Works still in copyright will be available as low definition files, so users can still get a feel for the museums’ collections online.)
Several works by Eugène Atget, the French photographer known for documenting and immortalizing old Paris, are also now in Open Access. Among them is “Coin des rues de Seine et de l’Echaudé, 6ème arrondissement, Paris” (1911), which epitomizes Atget’s radical approach of photographing nearly vacant streets. Aside from a few blurred passersby, the image favors the magic of the city itself over the presence of the figure.
Paris Musées receives a high volume of inquiries from researchers, students, and educators who want to view or utilize images of works in the museums’ collections. “We are ensuring they can easily, enduringly, freely and instantly use High Definition images to support their research, their teaching and their publications, thereby improving their physical and digital cultural mediation tools,” says the press release.
Scholars and art lovers alike can use the portal as a tool to revisit the works that shaped — or shook — art history. Gustave Courbet’s “Les demoiselles des bords de la Seine” (1857) depicts two young women lounging lazily by the banks of the Seine on a hot summer day. The painting, which belongs to the collection of Petit Palais, was the subject of controversy at the Paris Salon of 1857 for what some deemed an indecorous and even sensual portrayal of working class women. “This work, unique in its modern subject and unusually large format for a genre scene, broke away from the conventions of the day,” reads a text on Petit Palais’s website.
The Open Access works will also be included in virtual exhibitions on the website with the objective of highlighting the images’ availability and encouraging users to download and reuse them.