After the fire that totally destroyed Brazil’s Museu Nacional in Rio, many people lamented that the museum had not digitally backed up its collection and pointed to the event as a tragic example of why such digitization is so necessary. Just a couple decades ago, storing and displaying this much information was impossible, so it may seem like a strange demand to make. And in any case, two-dimensional images stored on servers—or even 3D printed copies—cannot replace or substitute for original, priceless artifacts or works of art.
But museums around the world that have digitized most–or all–of their collections don’t claim to have replicated or replaced the experience of an in-person visit, or to have rendered physical media obsolete.
We can’t all take the day off like Ferris Bueller and stand in front of Georges Seurat’s Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. But thanks to the Art Institute of Chicago, we can all view and download the 1884 pointillist painting in high resolution, zoom in closely like the troubled Cameron to specific details, share the digital image under a Creative Commons Zero license, and similarly interact with an oil sketch for the final painting and several conté crayon studies.
To dig through this digital treasure trove, stop by the Art Institute of Chicago’s revamped website.
1 Georges Seurat, “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte,” 1884
2 Katsushika Hokusai, “Under the Wave off Kanagawa (Kanagawa oki nami ura), also known as the Great Wave, from the series “Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji (Fugaku sanjurokkei)” c. 1830-1833
3 Vincent Van Gogh, “The Bedroom,” 1889
4 Claude Monet, “Water Lilies,” 1906
5 Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, “At the Moulin Rouge,” c. 1892-1895
6 Gustave Caillebotte, “Paris Street; Rainy Day,” 1877
7 Mary Cassatt, “The Child’s Bath,” 1893
8 Piet Mondrian, “Lozenge Composition with Yellow, Black, Blue, Red, and Gray,” 1921