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Frick Collection Spearheads Effort to Digitize Millions of Artworks

The Frick Collection is leading an international collaboration to transform art-historical research by digitizing twenty-five million images of artworks for a new research platform. The Frick has teamed up with thirteen arts institutions to establish PHAROS Art Research Consortium, which plans to have seven million images available online by 2020.

PHAROS currently comprises the Bibliotheca Hertziana in Rome; Bildarchiv Foto in Marburg, Germany; the Courtauld Institute in London; Fondazione Federico Zeri in Bologna; the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles; I Tatti in Florence; Institut national d’histoire de l’art in Paris; Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz; the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC; the Paul Mellon Centre in London; RKD—Netherlands Institute for Art History at The Hague; the Warburg Institute in London; the Yale Center for British Art in New Haven; and the Frick Art Reference Library in New York.

“The Frick has always been at the vanguard of art-historical research,” said director Ian Wardropper. “As early as 1922, Helen Clay Frick personally organized international photographic expeditions to record significant and rarely reproduced works of art, creating the first-ever public repository of its kind in the country. This documentation proved invaluable, especially at a time when most art-history books were not widely available or heavily illustrated. Researchers today are accustomed to having online resources at their fingertips, and in order to ensure that our offerings remain relevant and accessible, they must be digitized and catalogued in a searchable central resource. It is our hope that this initiative will transform scholarship in the twenty-first century, by unlocking access to our collection and ones like it around the globe.”

The database will contain a range of works that have never before been published as well as supplemental material such as attribution information, provenance research, and exhibition and conservation histories. While PHAROS’s intended audience is scholars, everyone will be able to access the images.

The project first launched in New York in 2013, when representatives of the fourteen institutions held a meeting that was sponsored by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation. In December 2016, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation awarded a $1 million grant in support of the Frick’s efforts to provide online access to its photo archive, which will now also benefit the database.

“People expect everything to be online, but it takes forever,” Johannes Roell, the head of the photography collection of the Bibliotheca Hertziana told the New York Times. Adding that the initiative grew out of the institutions’ mission to make sure analog materials don’t disappear, Roell said, “We know how urgent this is. We’re living in a Wiki world. All younger art historians start their research online.”

Similar initiatives include the Google Cultural Institute which is working with more than one thousand institutions to make six million photos, videos, and manuscripts, as well as virtual tours, available on its Google Arts and Culture website.