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The Kress Collection encompasses more than 3,000 works of European art dispersed among regional and academic art museums across the United States with the largest single donation to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. Collaborating with designers at C&G Partners, the Kress Foundation recently unveiled a new online art gallery featuring all 3,000+ works using the open source digital platform IIIF. Contributor Franck Mercurio interviews Maya Kopytman (C&G Partners) and Lisa W. Schermerhorn (Kress Foundation) to learn more.
Long-term partnerships between designers and clients often outlast the technologies originally used to solve a design problem. Case in point: the online art gallery designed by C&G Partners for the Kress Foundation. Since 2008, C&G has collaborated with the Foundation to create better ways to access and view the Kress Collection’s 3000+ works of art. The new technological solutions not only reinforce the project’s original goals, but also lead to better visitor experiences.
Entrepreneur and philanthropist Samuel H. Kress (1863-1955) assembled this important collection of European art (with a focus on Italian Renaissance painting and sculpture) and eventually distributed the works to museums throughout the United States. Today, the Kress Foundation has re-assembled the collection—digitally—and is sharing these works with a broad audience via an image database created by C&G Partners.
The project officially began in 2008 when C&G designed the first robust Kress website; and ArtStor provided access to the Kress Collection images.
“We were able to provide links on the original C&G-designed website which launched the ArtStor viewer,” explained Lisa W. Schermerhorn, Deputy Director of the Kress Foundation. “[The interface] was a little cumbersome, but it worked, and you could access the majority of works in a central place.”
But this past October, Kress and C&G unveiled a new website with a greatly enhanced user experience.
“What’s so exciting about this [new] site that C&G and our developers BMM created,” said Schermerhorn, “is that we are hosting the images now ourselves. It’s more immediate, and the functionality is richer, and we no longer need to rely on a third party to be able to deliver content.”
The enhanced functionality is made possible by technology that wasn’t available in 2008, specifically the open source viewer IIIF (International Image Interoperability Framework).
“We brought the collection [from ArtStor] to be fully hosted on the Kress website and also deployed the IIIF viewer,” explained Maya Kopytman, designer and partner at C&G Partners. “Opening the super-high-resolution images is now instantaneous. You can zoom-in and see details that, typically, if you were to visit [the artwork in] the museum, you would never see.”
A great example includes The Grand Canal from the Campo San Vio (c.1730-35) by Canaletto. It’s one of 30 works gifted by Samuel H. Kress to the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art.
The IIIF viewer allows website visitors to immediately zoom-in on the ancient scene and clearly see details within the painting—including gondoliers’ clothing, ships’ rigging, architectural ornamentation, and even laundry hanging from balcony windows. Inside the museum, it would be difficult for visitors to get close enough to the actual painting to see these types of details—and even if they could, they might need a magnifying glass to do so!
And the Memphis museum’s Canaletto is just one of the 3,000 works awaiting discovery by visitors to the Kress website.
Samuel H. Kress embodied the classic American success story. He came from a large family of modest means, but through hard work and bravado established his own retail empire: the S. H. Kress & Company. Kress used much of his wealth to build his art collection and eventually gifted many of the works to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC; he gave the rest to regional museums and university collections via his Foundation.
“Kress was driven by the populist spirit that created his wealth,” said Schermerhorn. “He owned a chain of five-and-dime stores that served the everyman, and he wanted to give back to those communities. So, Kress gave great masterworks to these small regional cities and museums.”
“The whole distributed collection—from El Paso to the Nelson Adkins to North Carolina Museum of Art to the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco—includes important and distinguished works,” says Schermerhorn. “There are beautiful important ‘sleepers’ in different parts of the country and in different museums.”
And now these dispersed works are easily available for viewing in one place—the Kress Foundation website—thanks, in large part, to the long-term collaboration between a design firm and its client! Take a look and see this significant collection, which not only honors the vision of an outstanding art collector, but also celebrates the user experience through improved technology.