Help the Tate uncover art history secrets

A new site lets amateur researchers annotate Francis Bacon and Barbara Hepworth documents, among others
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Document listing the details of Oval with two forms (1972) by Barbara Hepworth. Image courtesy of the Tate. The document forms part of the AnnoTate project.
Document listing the details of Oval with two forms (1972) by Barbara Hepworth. Image courtesy of the Tate. The document forms part of the AnnoTate project.

“One never finishes learning about art,” writes the historian EH Gombrich in the introduction to his definitive work, The Story of Art. “There are always new things to discover.”

It's an observation the Tate is abiding by, as it reaches out to art lovers to help it gain new knowledge from its vaults. The London institution holds the world’s largest archive of British art. This includes well-known works, such as Damien Hirst's Away from the Flock and Millais's Ophelia, as well as plenty of records, letters, sketchbooks and other ephemera.

Recently, the Tate posted a selection of these diaries, love letters, and sketchbooks up on a new site, AnnoTate. Developed by Zooniverse, an academic crowd-sourcing research project, originally developed to give researchers help when classifying galaxies, the site lets users view everything from Francis Bacon's favourite boxing magazine images, through to Barbara Hepworth's detailed sculpture records. They can then transcribe these hand-written or printed documents, allowing the Tate to gain insights into both the works in its collection and the lives of these great British artists.

 

Extract from unidentified boxing magazine with photograph of Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney. From the Francis Bacon Archive at the Tate.  Image courtesy of the Tate. The document forms part of the AnnoTate project.
Extract from unidentified boxing magazine with photograph of Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney. From the Francis Bacon Archive at the Tate. Image courtesy of the Tate. The document forms part of the AnnoTate project.

Less charitable commentators might argue that this is the kind of work that the Tate should be passing on to formally employed professionals. Yet with such a vast selection of intriguing documents in its collection, limited resources, ambitions to engage with the public digitally, coupled with strong competition from comparable institutions around the world, turning amateur art researcher for an afternoon sounds justifiable, and looks pretty fun too. Find out more here; and for a thoroughly authoritative look at art history buy a copy of The Story of Art.


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