A Message to Bridgeman Education from the Rijksmuseum

Regular readers know that I’m currently doing a drawing course with the Open College of the Arts. A few months ago, I wasted an afternoon (yes, even someone who spends far too much time on Facebook and Twitter can understand the concept of time-wasting!) going though my college blog, The Milkman Goes To College, replacing all the images which I had taken from Bridgeman Education, which is a source available by licence to students of OCA. They had turned awkward about ‘public’ use of their images on online blogs. Several other students made their research posts which included Bridgeman images ‘private’ i.e. accessible only by themselves and their tutor. I refused to do this and instead search online for other copies of the same works. So one version of an image (the Bridgeman one) was replaced by another version (a non-Bridgeman one). As I said, a wasted afternoon.

It was with interest, therefore, that I read an article in the New York Times entitled “Masterworks for One and All” which was about the newly reopened Rijksmuseum‘s decision to offer free downloads of high-resolution images of their works using Rijksstudio.

“The museum, whose collection includes masterpieces by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Mondrian and van Gogh, has already made images of 125,000 of its works available through Rijksstudio, an interactive section of its Web site. The staff’s goal is to add 40,000 images a year until the entire collection of one million artworks spanning eight centuries is available, said Taco Dibbits, the director of collections at the Rijksmuseum.

““We’re a public institution, and so the art and objects we have are, in a way, everyone’s property,” Mr. Dibbits said in an interview. “‘With the Internet, it’s so difficult to control your copyright or use of images that we decided we’d rather people use a very good high-resolution image of the ‘Milkmaid’ from the Rijksmuseum rather than using a very bad reproduction,” he said, referring to that Vermeer painting from around 1660.


“Until recently, museums had been highly protective of good-quality digital versions of their artworks, making them available only upon request to members of the press or to art historians and scholars, with restrictions on how they could be used. The reasons are manifold: protecting copyrights, maintaining control over potentially lucrative museum revenues from posters or souvenirs and preventing thieves or forgers from making convincing copies.”

Clicking on the above image of the Milkmaid will take you to a 2261 x 2548 high resolution version.

“…. Museum policies on the downloading of images vary from institution to institution. At the National Gallery in London, the collection of 2,500 artworks has been digitized and made available for academic purposes, but the museum has not provided free downloads. … The Smithsonian Institution in Washington has 137 million works in its coffers and has chosen 14 million of those for digitization, said a spokeswoman, Linda St. Thomas. It has made about 860,500 images, video clips, sound files, electronic journals and other resources available online, but the images of artworks are all low resolution — again, to discourage commercial use. …

“For the most part, museums still tend to view their online collections as a kind of virtual catalogue for the visitor rather than a bank of images that can be put to other uses. But Mr. Dibbits of the Rijksmuseum maintains that letting the public take control of the images is crucial to encouraging people to commune with the collection. “The action of actually working with an image, clipping it out and paying attention to the very small details makes you remember it,” he said.

“To inspire users, the Rijksmuseum invited the Dutch design cooperative Droog to create products based on its artworks. Its designers used part of a 17th-century flower still life by Jan Davidsz de Heem as a template for a tattoo, for example. … Are there limits to how the Rijksmuseum’s masterpieces can be adapted? Not many, Mr. Dibbits suggested. “If they want to have a Vermeer on their toilet paper, I’d rather have a very high-quality image of Vermeer on toilet paper than a very bad reproduction,” he said.”

The thing that gets me is that people like Bridgeman Education do not have ownership or copyright of the original works of art, only of their reproductions of those works.

Nowadays, when I research artists, I don’t bother with Bridgeman. What is the point of finding an image on their site which I can’t use on a publicly available blog?

About notes to the milkman

I'm a printmaker based in the North West of England, living in Bolton and printing at Hot Bed Press in Salford. Please visit my website johnpindararts.weebly.com
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13 Responses to A Message to Bridgeman Education from the Rijksmuseum

  1. This subject relates strongly to the others you have been posting about on photography in galleries. I am finding them very interesting. I have the feeling that these prohibitions are about money and power. Like the data protection act it ends up being moneyed interests that get protected.

    • Well, Bridgeman Education only kicked up a fuss because, as far as they were concerned, students were breaking the licence bought by the OCA. It was clearly a question of money. Regarding photography in galleries, no one is going to pay me for my images taken in any gallery, and even if I do take a load of shots, I invariably finish up spending in the shop – if they have postcards of the ones I particularly like, which is not always the case. As the New York Times article says, even though there are a lot of reproductions of the Mona Lisa people still want to see the original – if they can get close to it. (Did you see the Duchess of Cornwall at the Louvre? Nothing like the crowds I experienced!)

  2. glenis g says:

    Thank you for this post. The Rijksstudio link is excellent – all about spreading the message of art above money – what a refreshing attitude!

  3. Marvellous post, thank you

  4. cynt5525 says:

    Thank You for liking my newest drawing!!! 🙂 *Cynthia

  5. belleab31 says:

    The Rijksmuseum knows there is nothing like seeing the original up close (or from a distance in the case of Waterloo), and that making the work available online is also publicity, public education about art, creating a future visitor. Despite all this, I was daunted that, even with the advance purchase ticket, I had to queue an hour to get in a couple of weeks ago!

    • We were in Amsterdam last summer. We were only there briefly as we were on a cruise up to Norway. Nevertheless I optimistically joined the queue for the Highlights. After a quarter of an hour, I’d shuffled forwards a couple of metres. I did a few quick calculations and realised I was not going to get in, let alone look at anything, before I had to be back on board so I gave up.

      Even allowing for the Rijksmuseum having only just reopened, I’m surprised with your wait. I thought the whole point of advanced tickets was to avoid queuing.

  6. Anne Lawson says:

    I have just followed the link to Rijksstudio. What a treasure trove! What a way to spend a couple of hours — a couple of hours a day, that is!

  7. Pingback: No Photography At The Whitworth | notes to the milkman

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