Reviewed April 2021
Karina Wratschko, Assistant Director of Library and Digital Strategies, Philadelphia Museum of Art
Van Gogh Worldwide is a free digital platform providing art historical and technical data about the work of Vincent van Gogh. It is a joint initiative led by The RKD – Netherlands Institute for Art History, the Van Gogh Museum, and the Kröller-Müller Museum. The aim is to provide an objective, unified entry point to Van Gogh’s works. With the initial launch in November 2020, the site holds all Van Gogh’s works located in the Netherlands--over a thousand paintings and works on paper held in museums and private collections. The project has a phased approach and is now working on broadening its contents to include the remainder of attributed works around the world.
The site is particularly suited for museum professionals and scholarly art history audiences who will benefit from the aggregation of published research. It is easy to search for a specific work, using either Dutch or English keywords, or by collection number (F-number or museum object number). Search results can be filtered by subject, material, technique, and date of creation. For those interested in browsing, visual entry points are offered by way of period, category, and geographic location.
The nicely designed object pages feature object data, provenance, exhibition history, bibliographic references, technical documentation, and when applicable, external links to Vincent van Gogh: The Letters, a free, interactive database of Van Gogh’s correspondences. Within object pages, a sidebar menu makes it easy to jump between sections. Provenance is presented as both timeline and descriptive text. The exhibition history includes links to search by exhibition and see all works on view, or at least the ones included in the database. Technical information includes a list of research reports and additional documentation views (usually, verso and raking light).
Images are available via the International Image Interoperability Framework (IIIF). They are not downloadable however the IIIF icon allows users to view images in an IIIF compatible program of their choosing, and to do so easily with a drag and drop gesture. The full-page Mirador image viewer allows for deep zoom and ample configuration options.
As a monographic digital portal, it is somewhat similar to the Rembrandt Database and Georgia O’Keeffe Collections Online. In much the same way it is a collaborative, aggregating database. The data in Van Gogh Worldwide are owned, authenticated, and maintained by the 17 participating collections with supplemental data provided by the Van Gogh Museum, the RKD, and the RCE (Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands). Behind the scenes, information is pulled from source systems by API. In doing so information should stay up to date. Collections are integrated by way of Linked Open Data in accordance with the Linked Art data model. When considering the number of sources contributing to Van Gogh Worldwide, the structure and simplicity of the facet search is impressive. Given its solid foundations, such as the underlying knowledge graph, use of thesauri, open data, and interoperable technologies, it will be exciting to see how Van Gogh Worldwide evolves as more contributors join the fold and the initiative grows into its global name.