STOCKBRIDGE -- Now, with the click of a mouse, art lovers, students and anyone else can go online to the newly expanded Google Art Project and see clear, crisp images from the collection at the Norman Rockwell Museum -- one of only 29 in the U.S. and 151 from 40 nations worldwide invited into the virtual gallery.
The museum housing a treasure trove of works by Rockwell and other illustrators is the only Berkshire partner with Google. But it's in prestigious company. The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, New York's Metropolitan Museum, the White House art collection, London's National Gallery, the Acropolis in Athens, and the Palace of Versailles in France are just a few of the high-profile landmarks to display parts of their collection for an international audience.
The Web initiative rolled out by Google this week allows anyone with access to a computer to sample many of the world's greatest artists through thousands of high-resolution images.
The site is www.googleart
Launched in February 2011 as a first-phase trial run, the project was extolled by Rockwell Museum Director and CEO Laurie Norton Moffatt on Wednesday as "immensely innovative and exciting."
"This will radically change how art is appreciated and what it means in a culture," Moffatt said. "We can't even fully comprehend how this will transform the experience of art and art education now and for future generations."
The project is deemed especially significant since many schools continue to cut back support for arts education. Using the technology of Google Earth and Streetview, the electronic museum showcases the works of Rockwell, van Gogh, Monet, Vermeer, Renoir, Botticelli, El Greco, Seurat and many other luminaries. But no Mona Lisa smile -- the Louvre in Paris is not yet taking part.
Reached by phone in Paris where she attended the global launch for the Art Project's second phase at the Musée d'Orsay, Moffatt explained that last fall, the Rockwell Museum had been invited to join with Google but news of the partnership was withheld by the Internet search behemoth until this week's official unveiling.
A team from the Stockbridge museum, coordinated by Manager of Media Services Jeremy Clowe, gathered the 34 images of early works by Rockwell that are in the public domain and by eight other artists initially uploaded to the site.
Visitors can search by collection, museum, the type of art, the name of the artist, the specific art work, the time period, or the country.
"The site is very easy to navigate," Moffatt said. "You can be your own curator, set up your own ‘gallery' and save your personal collection from this great assemblage of artwork."
In addition to paintings, the online international database includes ceramics, sculpture, textiles, photographs, even street graffiti from Brazil, ancient African rock art and Islamic decorative art.
The partnership with Google achieves two common goals -- access and education, according to Moffatt.
"Google wanted to make the world's art available to people anywhere, anytime," she said. "As popular and visited as our museum is, we know not everyone will be able to visit or even know who Rockwell is. This brings us great exposure and allows many more people to know his work."
Moffatt, whose museum has digitized more than 30,000 images from its collection over the past 10 years, also praised the educational application on the Google site's home page, which offers educators and students 150 different suggestions for art curriculums and activities.
Asked about the likely impact of the Google project on attendance at her museum, Moffatt asserted that "people will be more inclined to visit the museums they can see online; it will entice them to want to see more."
At the same time, she added, "there's a vast population around the world who can never visit but will have the opportunity to understand different cultures the way art allows them to. That's tremendous."
"This is immensely exciting, and it's just the beginning," Moffatt said.
To reach Clarence Fanto:
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