January 16, 2021

Paris Musées Releases 100,000 Pieces of Art Online for Free Download

It has been announced that 14 major Paris museums are now offering over 100,000 digital reproductions of artworks in the city’s museums which will be made available for free online.

Paris Musées has made iconic pieces of work by the likes of Rembrandt and Gustave Courbet available without restrictions or charge as part of the new project, allowing the viewers to download through its Collections portal—a public space which collects work from all 14 major museums.

Paris Musées Online Collection: Website

Paris Musées has released over 100,000 artworks into the public domain.

Gustave Courbet’s Young Ladies on the Banks of the Seine is one of some 100,000 artworks now freely available online. (CC0 Paris Musées/Musée des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris, Petit Palais)

In 1857, Gustave Courbet shocked the Paris Salon when he exhibited Young Ladies on the Banks of the Seine, a sumptuous depiction of two working-class women lounging alongside the famed river. With their sensual gazes and provocatively arrayed dresses, Courbet’s subjects scandalized viewers; a critic even referred to the work as “frightful.”

Now, in a sign of the changing times, the public institution that oversees 14 major museums in Paris is helping audiences around the world easily access and enjoy Courbet’s notorious painting—along with a trove of other important artworks. As Valentina Di Liscia reports for HyperallergicParis Musées has made 100,000 digital reproductions of works held by the city’s museums available free of charge.

This grisaille work by Lucien Mélingue is featured in Paris Musées’ new online exhibition. (CC0 Paris Musées/Maison de Victor Hugo)

The images were released under the Creative Commons Zero license, meaning that the files have been dedicated to the public domain “as completely as possible.” Visitors to the Paris Musées collections portal can now download a file that contains a high-resolution digital version of a given artwork, details about the image, and a guide for using and citing it. Works still under copyright can also be downloaded through the portal but are only available as low-resolution images.

Paris Musées, which manages such diverse institutions as the Petit PalaisMusée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de ParisMaison de Balzac and the Catacombs, began making its collections accessible online in 2016. To date, more than 320,000 images—a substantial portion of the roughly one million works held by the organization’s museums—have been digitized.

Claude Monet (1840-1926). “Setting sun in Lavacourt”. Oil on canvas. 1880. Musée des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris, Petit Palais.

Paul Cézanne (1839-1906). “Ambroise Vollard”, 1899. Musée des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris, Petit Palais.

Gustave Courbet (1819-1877), “Jules Vallès (1832-1885), writer”, Oil on canvas. Paris, Musée Carnavalet.

Paris Musées, detailing the decision to make the work available online, stated: “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,” in a press release.

They added: “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.”

Iconic work by the likes of Claude Monet, Eugène Delacroix, Anthony van Dyck, Rembrandt and thousands more can be accessed digitally under the new project. The Paris Musées collection includes iconic institutions such as Maison de Balzac, The Catacombs, Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Petit Palais and more under its umbrella.

Victor Hugo. “The burg in the storm.” Pen, brush, use of feather beards, brown ink and wash, charcoal, highlights in white gouache, reserves, use of a stencil on beige paper. 1857. Paris, Maison de Victor Hugo.

Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863). “The Combat of Giaour and Pacha” Oil on canvas, 1835. Musée des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris, Petit Palais.

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.

Rembrandt Van Rijn (1606-1669). “Rembrandt with a Flaming Saber, 1634”. Musée des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris, Petit Palais.

Honoré Daumier (1808-1879). “Railroad physiognomies, number 10 – invasion of the wagons one day when you set off a fun train for five francs from Paris to the sea”. Gravure. Paris, musée Carnavalet.

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.

Head here to view the online archive.