Some Masterpieces from the Public Domain


Fig. 1-1

Fig. 1-1: Cameo from Rembrandt's "Night Watch

In my childhood I was fortunate enough to spend so much time in the corridors of a major art museum that they became nearly as familiar as my own home. A recent chain of events caused me to want to study once again some of the paintings of the old masters. Knowing there are some fairly large image files available on-line, and especially on Wikipedia, I proceeded to root some out and download them, with the intention of printing them for further study. I quickly discovered it was not to be that easy. The vast majority of the available image files large enough to print are decade-old film scans done with primitive equipment and no semblance of a modern colour-profiled and calibrated workflow. In order to make use of these image files I needed to perform major surgery, described under the Digital restoration link, below.

I'm far from done with this project, but I already have enough to share. The links below will take you to ten large JPEGs, each of a famous painting. All of these are edits based on images you can download yourself by plugging the painter and painting name into Google. Most are from the Wikipedia Commons. I've added details like physical dimension and location of the original in the meta-data of each image – something strangely lacking in Wikipedia.

Clicking on any image on an artist page below will open a full-size JPEG, between 1 and 3 megabytes, saved in Photoshop with very minimal compression (level 10 or level 11). You can print these at the size each image defaults to, which fits on a 13 x 19" sheet of paper, cut down to 13 x 15; or you can change to pixels per inch setting to fit the image on to the common 8.5 x 11" paper size.

For most of these reproductions I have no way of guaranteeing colour accuracy; all I can say is that the colours seem to me more realistic and more likely to be accurate than the original scans I had to work with. I've minimized scanner defects such as dust spots, false colour lines, and streaking, to the extent possible without radically altering the image. I've reduced paint crackling and environmental damage as captured by the reproductions without trying to wish it away. (Technical note: for the benefit of those with unprofiled printers, I've used the small-gamut sRGB colour space for these pictures. I think it unlikely that any oil painted pigment can exceed its confines.)

In short, I'm a working artist and these are the same files I've printed for my own study. I offer them to you for whatever they may be worth.

Warning PG-13: Clotheslessness on * starred pages. I never expected to post any images of unclothed people on this site, any more than I would hang them in my living room. but when I discovered M. Boucher's work I found his artistry to be so infernally exquisite I simply couldn't stand not to share – and that lead to David and the Pre-Raphaelites. The fact that these are paintings, not photographs, together with the fact that these pictures hang in public display in the Louvre and similar galleries will have to stand in my defense. In any case, these painters' exposures are nothing if not tasteful. If you prefer to give such things a miss, simply avoid the starred pages.