Smithsonian 3D Scans Records Request

Cosmo Wenman
4 min readMar 8, 2015

By Cosmo Wenman, March 8, 2015

Over the last couple years, I’ve taken an interest in 3D scans that museums and universities keep under lock and key.

There are many high-quality 3D scans of important artworks and artifacts that have not been made available to the general public, even though the underlying works are in the public domain. Here are a few examples I’m aware of, including Michelangelos, Donatellos, and Rodins:

Keeping this data private seems at odds with the institutions’ public missions, which generally seek to advance appreciation and understanding of those same works.

With all the good press the Smithsonian has earned by sharing 3D scans, I wondered whether they too had notable unpublished 3D data.

Also, I am curious how the Smithsonian is prioritizing their 3D survey work. In my view, the fossils and Americana they’ve been concentrating on are bloodless. They lack edge.

The Smithsonian has many works that, if scanned and shared online, would make waves in the art world. Modern era bronzes, for example. Degas, Rodins, and Bugattis that could be 3D printed and cast in bronze, in high-quality, unlimited editions.

I don’t envy anyone tangled in the politics I imagine must be at work here, but I am very interested to see this knot cut.

Since the Smithsonian follows disclosure policies similar to those required by the Freedom of Information Act, in May 2014 I sent the Smithsonian’s Office of General Counsel a records request for any 3D surveys of the works listed below, which are all in the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn museum.

Constantin Brancusi
Sleeping Muse I, 1909–1910
Prometheus, 1911

Rembrandt Bugatti
European Bison, 1907
Hamadryas Baboon, 1910
Indian Rhinoceros, 1910
Great Royal Tiger, 1913

Edgar Degas
Dancer: Arabesque on Right Leg, Left Arm in Line, c.1877–1885
Picking Apples, c.1881
Dancer At Rest, Hands On Hips, Right Leg Forward, c.1881–1890
Dancer Moving Forward, Arms Raised, Right Leg Forward, c.1882–1895
Dancer Moving Forward, Arms Raised, c.1882–1898
Woman Rubbing Back with a Sponge (Torso), c.1888–1892
Sick Man in the Hospital, 1889
Dancer Holding Right Foot in Right Hand, c.1890–1911
Dancer Holding Right Foot in Right Hand, 1896
Woman Washing Left Leg, 1896–1911
Woman Getting Out of Bath, c.1896–1911
The Masseuse, c.1896–1911
Dancer Putting on Stocking, c.1896–1911
Woman Stretching, c.1896–1911
Seated Woman Wiping Left Hip, c.1896–1911
The Bow, c.1896–1911
Seated Woman Wiping Her Left Side, c.1896–1911
Woman Arranging Her Hair, c.1896–1911
Pregnant Woman, c.1896–1911

Paul Gaugin
Hina with Two Attendants, 1892
Torso of a Tahitian Woman, c.1892
Mask of a Woman, c.1893–1895

Seated Nude, 1912
Seated Nude, 1912
Grape Harvester, 1913
Woman and Child, 1914

Henri Matisse
Bust of an Old Woman, 1900
The Serf, 1900–1903
Anatomical Figure: Copy after Puget’s “Écorché”, 1903
Reclining Figure in Chemise, 1906
Marguerite, 1906
Reclining Nude I, 1906–1907
Two Women, 1907–1908
Decorative Figure, 1908
The Serpentine, 1909
Back I, 1909
Back II, 1913
Back III, 1916–1917
Seated Nude: Olga, 1910
Head of Jeannette I, 1910
Head of Jeannette II, 1910
Head of Jeannette III, 1911
Head of Jeannette IV, 1911
Head of Jeannette V, 1913
The Dance, 1911

Elie Nadelman
Head of a Woman, c. 1907–1908
Head of a Man, c. 1913

Pablo Picasso
Mask of a Picador with a Broken Nose, 1903
Head of a Woman (Fernande Olivier), 1905
Head of a Jester, 1905
Bust of a Man (Josep Fondevila), 1906
Head of a Woman (Second State Modified), 1906
Kneeling Woman Combing her Hair, 1906
Head of a Woman, 1906–1907
Mask of a Woman, 1908
Seated Woman, 1908
Head of a Woman (Fernande Olivier), 1909

Pierre-Auguste Renoir
Small Venus Victorious, with Base Showing the Judgment of Paris, 1913
Renoir, Mme., 1916
Boy with a Flute (Pipe Player), 1918
Dancer with a Tambourine I, 1918
Dancer with a Tambourine II, 1918

Auguste Rodin
Mask of The Man with a Broken Nose, 1864
Portrait of Docteur Thiriar, 1872
Third Architectural Model for “The Gates of Hell”, 1880
Crouching Woman (Small Version), 1880–1882
Crouching Woman, 1880–1882
She Who Was Once The Helmet-Maker’s Beautiful Wife, 1880–1885
Head of Sorrow, 1882
Head of Sorrow (small version), 1882
The Burghers of Calais, 1884–1889
Right Hand (Medium-Size), c.1885–1910
Woman with Crab, c.1886
Head of St. John The Baptist, 1887
Iris, Messenger of the Gods, 1890–1891
Monument to Balzac, 1891–1898
Half-Length Portrait of Balzac, 1892
Head of Balzac, 1897
Head of Baudelaire, 1898
Walking Man, 1900
Gustav Mahler, 1909
Torso of a Young Woman, 1909
Etienne Clementel, 1916
Day, n.d.

In May 2014, the Smithsonian responded to me, informing me that none of these works had been 3D scanned. Disappointing, no?

Who will be the first to publish high-quality 3D scans of these works?

All of them are from before 1923 and therefore likely in the public domain. The Bugattis, Degas, and Rodins certainly are, and as I pointed out in my presentation to LACMA more than a year ago, there are multiple bronze casts of each of these scattered around the world. One way or another, they will eventually be scanned, and those scans will be put to all sorts of uses — academic, artistic, and commercial.

The only questions are who will do the scanning? Will the scans be made and the data presented with a curator’s care? Will the data be stolen, leaked, wrangled loose, or made freely available to everyone from the outset?

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