Identifying a Painting with Google’s Search by Image

Dante and Beatrice

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.

dante beatrice black and white

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

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?

38 Responses to “Identifying a Painting with Google’s Search by Image”

  1. Susan Cooper says:

    I did not know you could identify paintings, images etc that way. That was a great piece of information that I know I will use. Thank you for that. :-)))

  2. Thanks for the tip! I try to put at least 1 picture with each blog post that I write, but sometimes it is easier said than done. I never even thought about searching for old paintings.

  3. Very cool! Thx for the info., Leora. I had no idea one could search images as they do text!

  4. Dan Meyers says:

    Um, wow… Google is incredible. I had no idea it could identify paintings/pictures now! Oh wow, I guess it just continues to highlight the lack of privacy we have now and we’ll continue to (not) have!

    • Leora Wenger says:

      Hm, I suppose one could try it for identifying faces as well. But it usually needs an accurate match that is already online to give an answer for an image ID. Yes, more and more goes online and is more public, that is true.

  5. Mrs. S. says:

    Amazing! Thanks for sharing this helpful tip!

  6. Leora — all I can say is “ditto.” I didn’t know about this Google Images feature. Thanks so much for explaining how it works!

  7. Jeri says:

    Is there anything Google can’t do? I currently use pics from publicdomainpictures.net but lately I’m starting to run out of pics since they only have so many that fit my type of posts. I suppose once I fully exhaust that site, I’ll move onto another one. It’s too much to focus on more than one image site at a time. Otherwise I find I take too long looking for the “perfect” picture.

  8. Geek Girl says:

    Wow… I did not know you could do this. Nice! Thanks for sharing. :)

  9. Great tip, didn’t know you could do that! Google is magical and this is a tool I will definitely be using in the near future, thanks for sharing!

  10. Atish says:

    I have performed this search by image sometimes and had a good experience. Good to see you have shared here. Google has always something new to its users :)

    • Leora Wenger says:

      Atish, I tried it on a bird photo yesterday, and it failed me miserably. I got photos of ships at sea with the same sky coloring as my bird (who is probably a chickadee, my birder friends will let me know).

  11. Mary Slagel says:

    This isn’t something I’ve come across yet and I am surprised. I use public domain photographs for my blog but I have never used a painting. This is an awesome tool and I am glad you shared it with us because I did not know this feature was available. There have been several times that I have seen a plant and wondered what it was, only to not know what to search in order to figure it out. I will definitely take advantage of this tool now that I am aware of it.

  12. Sandra says:

    Wow, you’re a font of information. I had no idea that you could use old paintings. I loved art history. At UCLA you had to take many art history classes as an artist. Not so anymore. What a shame. I loved my art histroy classes.

    • Leora Wenger says:

      Sandra, I was an art history major, as I couldn’t stop taking art history classes – loved studying all those paintings. I didn’t enjoy studying computers in school as much as I did once I started working.

      Glad you are enjoying my blog.

  13. Amy says:

    Leora,

    Thank you for helping me find out the name and the artist of the print I have hanging on my wall! It worked beautifully!

  14. Beth says:

    Does it work on ipad? I don’t see the camera icon when I go to search by image.

  15. Nikki says:

    I can’t put a image into the search bar can u please help I’m trying to identify a painting that I have

  16. Kerri says:

    Sadly, no ; I am not seeing that camera on the Google Images page. I’ve checked an multiple devices (iPad, smartphone). Wonder if the operating software or Internet Explorer play a role in barrier to access.

  17. Sharon says:

    I saw a beautiful painting and wanted a print or copy of it…because it simply made me feel. I asked around and was told it was painted by someone in the 19th century…maybe a Flemish or Dutch Master…maybe with the last name initial”B”. I spent months going through every single “B” name I could find. I had a partial re-painting of it done by my friend. I downloaded a photo of that half finished painting and tried the Google search, as you suggested. I found it in, literally, less than a second. It was, indeed painted in the 19th century, but by an American artist whose last name started with an “R”. I am so impressed! And relieved. Thank you for posting this online. I cannot say how much I appreciate it.

  18. Are there people who attempt to identify the signature of the Painter of an old probably French painting? We have a wonderful old oil painting—not a print nor copy—
    Could you recommend experts who offer such services?

    Thank you

    William Ferguson

    • Leora Wenger says:

      William, sounds like an interesting problem, but not one in my area of expertise. Try to find someone at the Metropolitan Museum in New York or the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

  19. Julie says:

    This did not work for me. It didn’t identity the painting.

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