close up image of four photo books, green fabric binding them and the labels all handwritten to show group and location, as well as library numbering system.

News Archive 2023

Digitisation of the Witt Photographic Collection Commences

14 Nov 2023

A significant initiative to digitise the Witt Photographic Collection has begun. Following a two-week operation, the entire collection has been relocated from Somerset House to the Netherlands, with the digitisation project set to be completed by Summer 2025. Picturae BV has been contracted for this work.

Professor Mark Hallett, Märit Rausing Director of the Courtauld, said, “This monumental project not only preserves our rich photographic archive heritage but makes it accessible to all. We are delighted that an exciting intersection of technology and art history that ensures the Witt Photographic Collection will continue to serve scholars and the public for generations to come.”

The Witt is an extensive collection, boasting over 2.1 million photographs, reproductions, and cuttings of paintings, drawings, and engravings of Western Art from circa 1200 to 2009. The collection features a comprehensive range of artists, including not only the well-known but also those less frequently spotlighted. It stands as one of the largest collections of its kind, comparable to the National Gallery of Art in Washington and the RKD in The Hague.

Tom Bilson, Head of Digital Media, noted, “The Witt has consistently been a pioneer in digital projects within the humanities. The vision to make this rich resource available online has never wavered. It serves not just the art history and trade communities, but also supports research in areas such as topography, costume, genealogy, and natural history.”

Established in the 1890s by Sir Robert Witt during his undergraduate studies at Oxford, the collection has a fascinating history. A comprehensive survey in 2013 showed that the Witt comprises 2,151,862 images in 102,995 folders, housed in 19,139 boxes. Its collection occupies nearly 1.4 km of shelf space and includes works from 26 different national “schools” of art.

In a venture generously backed by a private benefactor, over half of the British School has already been digitised—a selection of more than 260,000 mounted images. This work, also conducted by Picturae, will be made available on our new photographic collections website as part of the current project.

Picturae, founded in 1997 by sculptor and photographer Onno Zaman, has a robust portfolio that includes collaborations with institutions including the Amsterdam City Archives, Naturalis, the Van Gogh Museum, and the Smithsonian Institute. The Courtauld previously worked with Picturae on a 2016 pilot project and they also supply the collections management and web publishing system for the Courtauld’s photographic collections.


Digitisation and Publication timeline:

    • British School by w/c 28 July 2024
    • French School by w/c 2 September 2024
    • Netherlandish School by w/c 11 November 2024
    • Italian School by w/c 10 February 2025
    • German and American Schools by w/c 11 March 2025
    • Remaining schools by w/c 15 April 2025

For further information, please visit .