Identifying a Painting with Google’s Search by Image

Dante and Beatrice

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.

• • •

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 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?

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42 thoughts on “Identifying a Painting with Google’s Search by Image

    1. 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.

  1. Is there anything Google can’t do? I currently use pics from 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.
    Jeri recently posted…Book Review: The Good Cemetery Guide by Consuelo RolandMy Profile

    1. Jeri, thanks for the new source. I haven’t looked at that one. I often do my own images – keeping a stock of one’s own photos can make image picking much easier.

    1. 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).

  2. 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.
    Mary Slagel recently posted…Should You Use Student Loans?My Profile

  3. 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.

    1. 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.

  4. 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!

    1. Beth, good point! I tried it on my iPad and did not see the camera icon. I suppose you need to download the app instead. There seems to be one for iOS and one for Android.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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

    1. 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.

    1. Well, if it’s not a commonly-known painting, identified somewhere on the internet, then, no, it won’t work! It’s just a tool that might work.

  8. I was excited to try Google image-but in the search bar there is no camera to choose to enter an image. Is it not available on mobile maybe? I haven’t looked on a PC yet.

  9. leora, thank you for this tip. good to know. i have a family member that ran across some artwork in their home, i believe it may have belonged to a previous owner and she is trying to identify the artist. they artist name is hard to make out and i tried looking up image but didn’t find a match. do you have any suggestions?
    best regards, suzanne

    1. Suzanne, I’m afraid this post is about well-known artwork, artwork that has been posted online. I can’t really help you with artwork that isn’t online already.

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