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Please Enjoy This Massive Online Trove of Classical Realist Painting

Rob Walker
Tech Columnist
Yahoo Tech

Fridays on Yahoo Tech, The New Old Thing tells you about what’s not-new—but still great and available to you right now thanks to the magic of technology. Your tips are welcome; send to rwalkeryn@yahoo.com.

This week: Mark Frauenfelder—founder of BoingBoing.net, editor-in-chief of MAKE and Cool Tools, and host of the Gweek podcast, among other activities that already make him an intimidating master of time management and creativity—caught me off-guard: “I love browsing the paintings at Artrenewal.org,” he informs me.  

I managed to set aside my irritation at the thought that Frauenfelder gets so much done and still has time to browse what turns out to be “a huge archive of works by academy masters of the late 1800s and early 1900s.”

William Adolphe Bouguereau (William Bouguereau) (1825-1905),
Le Ravissement de Psyche. Oil on canvas. (Via Art Renewal Center)

But upon browsing there myself, I get it. The Art Renewal Center bills itself as “leading the revival of realism in the fine arts,” and it’s fair to say that founder Fred Ross has a passionate point of view about the value of realism and modernist efforts (in his view) to denigrate it. 

“Before visiting Artrenewal.org for the first time (about 10 years ago),” Frauenfelder says, “I’d never heard of William Bouguereau, Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, John William Waterhouse, Lord Frederic Leighton, Ernest Louis Meissonier, Edward Coley Burne-Jones, Frank Dicksee, James Joseph Tissot, or John William Godward.

“Looking at their work makes me feel like I’ve entered a secret museum that was closed off to the public for fear of a mass outbreak of Stendhal syndrome.”

John William Waterhouse (1849-1917) Tristan and Isolde with the Potion. Oil on canvas. (Via Art Renewal Center)

Indeed, it’s a rather sprawling secret museum—and the sheer volume of material archived here (some of it available for purchase in archival print form) is almost overwhelming.

But that’s just another reminder that the wonders of the Internet include the past as well as the present. And in this case that means “beautifully executed paintings by artists who excelled at anatomy, composition, form, color, and all the other technical requirements for a realistic painting,” Frauenfelder says.

Normally, when we write about art and the Internet, that means some inventive new reuse of technology that results in something quite apart from “realism.” So it’s refreshing to lose oneself in a huge, educational collection of more classic works—right on my laptop.

Thanks again, Internet!

Lord Frederic Leighton (1830-1896) Phoebe. Oil on canvas. (Via Art Renewal Center)

Write to me at rwalkeryn@yahoo.com or find me on Twitter, @notrobwalker. The RSS feed for my columns and posts is right here.