Thank You, Public Domain

Ever wonder about public domain images? Photo Editor Todd Strand has some insight on the topic:

As a photo editor I am constantly looking for new sources of imagery to help illustrate our books.

One of the more interesting developments in image research is the advent of public and private institutions opening up online some of their art collections under such terms as public domain, open content, or open access. High resolution digital images are being made available without restrictions and they may be used for any purpose. You do have to read the fine print as you will occasionally find disclaimers stating “this image may be subject to third party rights including rights of privacy and publicity, under applicable law.”

Why are museums, private collections, and government institutions opening up their collections in this manner? There are a growing number of institutions wanting to make information and images more readily available for scholars, publishers, entrepreneurs, art lovers, innovation, education, and research. The policies are meant to help people understand what inspires great works of art.

In applying public domain policies in a global digital environment, the institutions will surely expand their scholarly and education outreach. I am slightly biased about this but I think it’s a win-win for everyone, and I am sure we will see many more institutions following this approach. It’s going to be fun to see how it all shakes out.

(I do need to state the Library of Congress and the National Archives have long been leaders in the area of public domain information and imagery.)

Below are few examples of public domain, open content, or open access images from various institutions that I have been looking at lately.

J. Paul Getty Museum and the Getty Research Institute

Title: The Parting of Sir Lancelot and Queen Guinevere

Julia Margaret Cameron, photographer [British, born India, 1815 – 1879]

Date: 1874

Medium: Albumen silver print


Image: 35.4 x 28.1 cm (13 15/16 x 11 1/16 in.)

Object Number: 84.XO.732.1.1.10

Place Created: Freshwater, England, United Kingdom, Europe

J. Paul Getty Museum and the Getty Research Institute

Collection Title: [Portraits of Inca kings and an Inca queen]

Medium: oil on vellum

Dimensions: sheets 21 x14.5 cm. or smaller

Object Number: 2772-712

Description: Incomplete series of full-length portraits of Inca rulers by an unidentified maker, probably an indigenous Peruvian or Bolivian artist, includes portraits of eleven kings and one queen. Each Inca king is shown standing on a grassy mound, wearing a long mantle, a short tunic, sandals, and a coiled turban headdress.

Los Angeles County Museum of Art

No-Tin (Wind), a Chippewa Chief

Henry Inman (United States, New York, Utica, 1801-1846)



Oil on canvas

Canvas: 30 1/2 × 25 3/4 in. (77.47 × 65.41 cm) Frame: 37 1/2 × 33 1/2 × 2 7/8 in. (95.25 × 85.09 × 7.3 cm)

Gift of the 2008 Collectors Committee (M.2008.58)

American Art

Not currently on public view

Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Architectonic Painting

Liubov Popova (Russia, 1889-1924)

Russia, 1917

Painting: Oil on canvas

29 13/16 x 21 in. (75.57 x 53.34 cm)

Purchased with funds provided by the Estate of Hans G. M. de Schulthess and the David E. Bright Bequest (87.4)

Modern Art

Credit: Gift of Mrs. Robert Homans Accession No.1954.7.2/National Gallery of Art

Title: Abigail Smith Adams (Mrs. John Adams)

Dated: 1800-1815

Artist: Gilbert Stuart 1755- 1828

Medium: oil on canvas