Open Access at the Barnes.

Throughout the conceptualization of our collection project our general counsel has also been working behind the scenes to help us provide open access to the collection. At this time 2,081 objects have been published online out of just over 3,000 collection objects total. We’ve determined — according to our newly created guidelines — that 1,429 works are not under copyright; you can now download these high resolution images directly from the site.

Providing open access to collection objects is a vital step in moving the institution forward in our digital world, but reproduction has always been a tricky subject in the history of the Barnes. According to our archivist, Barbara Beaucar, that story goes like this:

The Barnes Foundation always allowed the reproduction of its art works in black and white. The great bugaboo that Dr. Barnes had was with color reproduction. In 1941, he gave Angelo Pinto permission to photograph the gallery in color. These images are most likely those that appeared in the Saturday Evening Post in 1942 and they appear garish–a result of the four color separation process that was used in magazine and newspaper reproduction.
It appeared that Dr. Barnes was not so much against color photography, but felt that the methods of reproduction of color photographs were not advanced enough. This is likely why Miss de Mazia did not allow any color reproduction of the collection in publications.
We believe that the 1995 publication, Great French Paintings From The Barnes Foundation: Impressionist, Post-impressionist, and Early Modern, was the first publication to include works in color.
Laura L. Barnes. Letter to Henri Matisse, April 29, 1952. Central File Correspondence, Barnes Foundation Archives, Philadelphia, PA.

As we were rethinking the presentation of our collection online we were considering the sensitivity Barnes had around color reproduction, but we also had to think about the needs of today’s students, researchers, and scholars. It goes without saying that the work of other institutions — the open access initiative at the Met, especially — helped make these decisions much easier.

And of course we had to think about our goal of growing public knowledge about our holdings. The aforementioned restriction of color photography in publications represents an incredible loss of almost 50 years worth of a potential vehicle for getting word out which cannot be under estimated.

The Barnes did publish its collection online — in color — in 2012 to coincide with the move to the Parkway. This was an important step in giving people access to the collection; the timing for greater digital access was especially appropriate given the move to center city which would substantially increase our public visitation. Unfortunately, that last iteration of the collection online didn’t foreground the ability for users to download or share images easily. This isn’t too surprising given the 2012 launch date, but, others were implementing more open policies and the ability to download/share as early as 2008 — here’s looking at you BKM. And many of those early efforts gave institutions the foundation to then work on partnerships with wikipedia and google as part of larger digital strategy. The results of this are pretty clear across the web.

Then combine those two factors with a prohibitive photography policy — yes, we are still working on this — and you’ve got a perfect storm. As a result, the example below is the kind of thing you see happening in 2017.

Google searching compared to the Barnes holdings demonstrates limited reach.

Renior is the artist with the most representation at the Barnes with extremely important works in our collection, but a simple Google search (pictured left) demonstrates the challenges. Ten individual works rise to the top of the rankings, along with some staged gallery photography, some open books, and — my personal favorite — exterior wall of the Barnes Foundation. By contrast, take a look at the image on the right — we are steeped in Renior holdings that are not seeing the light of day online.

So, in looking at this equation today for the Barnes, it was critical that we promote downloads and sharing whenever possible — the result will mean that many more people can use these images — wherever they please — and that opens the institution up for even greater awareness which will help promote greater access, especially with the new audiences we are now seeking to develop. This won’t be the end in our strategy, but it forms a foundational beginning.

Works in the public domain include direct download of high resolution tiff files complete with color bars. Édouard Manet. Tarring the Boat (Le Bateau goudronné), July–August 1873. Oil on canvas, Overall: 19 11/16 x 24 1/8 in. (50 x 61.2 cm). BF166. Public Domain.

In terms of the digital presentation that surrounds this new effort, you’ll notice that works under copyright are treated differently than those that are not; pull up this Matisse, which is under copyright, and compare it to this Cezanne, which is in the public domain. Images under copyright can’t be zoomed and are limited to the display size we’ve negotiated with rights holders; you’ll see a button that sends people to “request image.” On images in the public domain, zooming is enabled and the button sends you to “download image.” We do ask a few questions prior to the download to help us better understand how images are being used — this is all done through a Wufoo integration. You’ll also notice that we are linking directly to either Creative Commons or rightsstatements.org in the copyright status of our metadata. Both gave us easy ways to link to existing statements rather than reinventing the wheel.

After you submit the download form you can decide if you’d like the uncompressed TIFF or a high resolution JPEG. The JPEGs are nicely cropped, which may be easier for your use case. The TIFFs are not cropped and come complete with color bars. The inclusion of those color bars provide the clearest path to decent reproduction, something much less of a problem today than in the 1940s when Barnes wrestled with it.


Many thanks are due for this part of the project including Sara Geelan, our general counsel who led this effort; Henrietta Wirta for copyright research; Deborah Wythe for early consulting and evaluation; Kerry Annos for TMS assistance; Deepthi Nune for some considerable data manipulation; and the entire curatorial staff who understood the challenges at hand and supported the effort that made this happen.

The Barnes Foundation collection online project is funded by the Knight Foundation and our code is open source. Follow the Barnes Foundation on Medium.