Update in 2015: I originally published this article in 2013. The point of the article was to help users find ways to use Google Images to identify a painting (or a plant or a bird, to give other examples). However, in talking to some people, I discovered that they thought I was some kind of expert at identifying paintings. I am sorry for the misunderstanding – this is merely a way to identify a painting if it *already* exists on the web. So that would rule out most rare paintings. This is more likely to be a good tool for an impressionist or Renaissance painting.
Also, you cannot get the little camera on a phone or tablet. You can do a Reverse Search by Image on a phone or tablet:
But the image must already reside in Google Images.
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If you need images for your website or blog, a good resource is public domain paintings. Paintings that are over 150 years old are in the public domain. If you have a painting you want to display from the 20th century, you need to check. Some Picasso paintings are not yet in the public domain. So let’s say you find a reproduction of a painting that you like, but the painting is not identified. You want an identification of artist, painting title and time period before posting.
This situation of needing to identify a painting happened to me last week. As part of my work for the Highland Park Public Library, I post images with upcoming events. The presenter of an upcoming event had created a poster with the image of a painting that you can see on the right of this post. I wanted to use the image, but I also wanted to identify the painting at the bottom of the event page. The librarian had quick access to a printer, so she gave me a black-and-white copy of the flyer. I scanned in the black-and-white image into my computer and saved it as a .jpg file. I then went to the http://images.google.com page and selected the little camera on the right (known as Search by Image):
Google Images quickly identified the painting as Dante and Beatrice by the artist Henry Holiday, dated 1884.
I have also used Google Images to help identify plants in nature. I take the photo of the plant, upload it to Google Images, and see if there is anything similar. I find this method doesn’t work quite as well as identifying a famous 17th century painting, but I have sometimes gotten good results.
Your Turn, Please
Have you ever used a public domain painting as an image for a blog post, article, web page or poster? Have you ever needed to identify an image – a painting or a photo of nature? What sources do you use for images?