National Inventory Research Project

TThe National Inventory Research Project (NIRP), based at the University of Glasgow since 2003, has been working to create an authoritative online inventory of all pre-1900 Continental European oil paintings in UK museums. The project was initiated by the National Gallery, London, and is supported by a steering committee The Advisory Committee for Research on European Paintings, which also manages the Subject Specialist Network: European Paintings pre-1900. The first phase of the project was funded by the National Gallery Trust, the AHRC, the Getty Trust, the Kress Foundation and the Pilgrim Trust. A partnership between the University of Glasgow and Birkbeck, University of London, NIRP employed some 30, mostly post-doctoral, researchers under the auspices of NIRP and the National Gallery’s Neil Macgregor Scholarship scheme. The researchers worked with curators in museums across the country researching and recataloguing this important and comparatively neglected aspect of the nation’s cultural heritage.


This first phase of NIRP’s work comprised newly-researched records on 8,000 paintings from 200 principally smaller and under-resourced museums across the UK. It was published as NICE Paintings: the National Inventory of Continental European Paintings, on VADS, the Visual Arts Data Service, in 2007. Images continue to be added to the database, many provided thanks to the project’s partnership with Art UK.


In 2009 the project received a grant from the Kress Foundation to work with the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Royal Academy and Apsley House to add their collections to NICE Paintings. The work at the V&A involved considerable new research on the museum’s collections, as part of the Word and Image Department’s recataloguing of its fine art collections. Additional funding came from the university’s Chancellor’s Fund and the Victoria and Albert Museum. Data and images on nearly 700 V&A paintings were added to NICE Paintings in 2012. The collections at the Hunterian Art Gallery, University of Glasgow, and the Barber Institute, University of Birmingham have also now been added.


In spring 2014 funding was received from the Kress Foundation, the John Ellerman Foundation and the Pilgrim Trust to extend the project’s work to over 1,000 paintings in the collections of National Museums Liverpool, Manchester Art Gallery, Leeds City Art Gallery and York Art Gallery. This project ran until November 2015 and added a further 1,306 detailed picture records and images to NICE Paintings, making a total of 10,489 paintings that have been researched, catalogued and published by NIRP.


NIRP is proud of its success in recruiting project researchers of the highest calibre. Many have gone on to curatorial posts in national and other leading museums in the UK and abroad. The project seeks to encourage links between academia and the museums sector and be prominent part of the university’s knowledge exchange and public engagement landscape.


Most notably, NIRP has had a long-term relationship with Art UK (previously the Public Catalogue Foundation). Andrew Greg, Project Director, has worked for Art UK on setting up the initial PCF website in conjunction with the BBC, Your Paintings, on the public-engagement Tagger project, and, most recently, on Art UK’s Art Detective, winner of Museums and the web’s ‘Best of the web’ award in 2015. NIRP data is linked to from the painting pages in Art UK website so that it is accessible to a much wider audience. See also the school research page Art UK (previously the Public Catalogue Foundation).


The publication of Art UK’s images of over 200,000 paintings in public ownership in the UK has enabled identification of about 1,500 pre-1900 Continental European oil paintings that were not included for various reasons in earlier phases of NIRP. Work is currently underway to fundraise and devise practical and economical ways of gathering data on these works to complete NICE Paintings as a unique resource for the study of old master paintings in the historically less-well researched museums in the UK.


Click here for further background information on NICE Paintings or contact: Andrew Greg, Director, National Inventory Research Project.