The Royal Society’s oil paintings join unique national online collection

13 December 2012

Today images of the 190 oil paintings from the Royal Society’s collections have been posted live on the BBC ‘Your Paintings’ website joining artworks from public and other institutions.

The national project has been collecting the UK’s great paintings into one single online interactive catalogue and will surpass its target of 200,000 images with today’s additions.  This will make the UK the only country in the world with its entire public collection of oil paintings online.  

Among the Royal Society’s contributions will be a rare Salvador Dali portrait of the manufacturer and entrepreneur Brian Mercer (1927-1998), a portrait of Albert Einstein soon after winning of a Nobel Prize, and a portrait of the Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe (1546-1601) resplendent with his best prosthetic nose. The Royal Society’s collection of oil paintings ranges from the 16th century to the present day; the most recent, Anne McLaren FRS by Emma Wesley, was unveiled at its Carlton House Terrace headquarters in January 2011.

Royal Society Head of Library and Archives, Keith Moore, said: “The Society’s collection of portraits is one of the oldest and least studied London-based resources of its kind. We hope that by exhibiting the whole body of work in this way, we may gain insight from art historians on its history and importance, improve artist attributions and fill in many details on the provenance of individual pictures before they came into our care. Quite apart from ‘Your Paintings’ being a comparative database for scholars, we also hope that any member of the public who might not otherwise have a chance to view the collection will enjoy them!”

Despite its status as a scientific academy, the Royal Society’s collections of art are considerable. It holds 10,000 scientific portraits in all media: oil paintings, watercolours, sculpture busts, prints and photographs, together with many more original scientific illustrations by some of the best artists of their day. Well-known painters and illustrators were Fellows of the Royal Society in their own right, including Sir Thomas Lawrence, Francis Bauer, George Edwards and George Ehret.The Royal Society’s online picture gallery reveals more of these works weekly, as cataloguing and scanning progresses.