Updated 13 March 2020
These resources may hold the image you are looking for. Check usage and copyrights carefully before you proceed! If you have any you would like me to add, just contact me with your suggestion.
See also my page of map websites.
From the website: “Because the Walters owns or has jurisdiction over the objects in its collection and owns or customarily obtains the rights to any imaging of its collection objects, it has adopted the Creative Commons Zero: No Rights Reserved or CC0 license to waive copyright and allow for unrestricted use of digital images and metadata by any person, for any purpose.”
ANATOMIA 4,500 full page plates and other significant illustrations of human anatomy selected from the Jason A. Hannah and Academy of Medicine collections in the history of medicine at the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto, ranging in date from 1522 to 1867.
ANCESTRY IMAGES Run by Steve Bartrick, who advertises it as ‘a free image resource for historians, genealogists and anyone undertaking family history, ancestry or local history research.’ There are 31,100 images (as of July 2014) of old and antique prints, maps and portraits, dating from the 17th century but mostly from the later 18th century and 19th century. The images are all of prints and maps that are for sale on his main website, antiqueprints.com but include all those that are no longer visible on his commercial site (because they have been sold). Copyright for non-commercial is free. Steve is happy for those running personal websites dealing with family history, genealogy, or other historical research as well as charities and non-profits to use the images in return for a link back to his website or a credit such as ‘Image courtesy of ancestryimages.com’. For commercial use, you need to contact him directly to discuss terms.
ANNE S. K. BROWN MILITARY COLLECTION From the website: “The foremost American collection of material devoted to the history and iconography of soldiers and soldiering, and is one of the world’s largest collections devoted to the study of military and naval uniforms. It was formed over a period of forty years by the late Mrs. John Nicholas Brown (1906-1985) of Providence and is still growing. 14,000 printed books, 18,000 albums, sketchbooks, scrapbooks and portfolios (containing thousands of prints and drawings), and over 15,000 individual prints, drawings and watercolours as well as a collection of 6,000 miniature lead soldiers. Read the page on Copyright and fair use.
ART INSTITUTE OF CHICAGO “The Art Institute of Chicago is pleased to offer free, unrestricted use of over 50,000 images of works in the collection believed to be in the public domain or to which the museum otherwise waives any copyright it might have.” Use the filters to refine your search.
ART UK A registered charity (previously known as the Public Catalogue Foundation). The website is a joint initiative between Art UK and art collections from across the UK. Project partners include the BBC, Oxford University Press, the Public Monuments and Sculpture Association, Culture 24, the Visual Geometry Group at Oxford University and the University of Glasgow. Most of the images are of works in public ownership, which does not mean they are free-to-use. Some are available under a Creative Commons licence. Check individual works for specific copyright conditions.
BIBLIOTHEQUE NATIONALE DE FRANCE The online catalogue containing the majority of references and documents conserved on all BnF sites. Millions of high resolution images are available free for academic use, including in published books.
BILLY IRELAND CARTOON LIBRARY & MUSEUM The Billy Ireland archive is located at Ohio State University in Columbus. From their website: ‘The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum houses the world’s largest collection of materials related to cartoons and comics, including original art, books, magazines, journals, comic books, archival materials, and newspaper comic strip pages and clippings.’ A quick search produced 38 works by Rowlandson, 48 by Gillray (some were pages of his notebook rather than cartoons), 70 by the Cruikshanks). Each image carries information about copyright. Those I looked at stated that although OSU believed the image was in the public domain, users should assess copyright for themselves.
British History Online is a digital library, mostly of texts relating to the countries that are currently part of the UK, plus Ireland from 1169 to 1922.
The Romantics and Victorian Collection has over lo-res 1,300 images, many in the public domain and available on a Creative Commons licence.
Most images in the British Museum online collection collection are published under a Creative Commons licence. You need to register.
THE CLARK The collection of the Clark Art Institute features European and American paintings, sculpture, prints, drawings, photographs, and decorative arts from the Renaissance to the early 20th century. Many of the images downloadable in hi-res and require no permissions (credits are requested).
CLEVELAND MUSEUM OF ART An excellent collection of Creative Commons images and those under copyright restrictions. Many of them are tagged so you can explore themes. Advanced search also available.
A database of 250,000 London images owned by the London Metropolitan Archives. Image use requires a commercial or non-commercial licence.
DIGITAL PUBLIC LIBRARY OF AMERICA An aggregation of the digital resources – images and publications – of numerous US public libraries and institutions. Check the copyright and usage restrictions as they will vary.
Europeana is a portal allowing you to search over 53 million artworks, artefacts, books, videos and sounds from across Europe, including 1,363,725 paintings, drawings, prints and other artworks.
FIVE COLLEGES AND HISTORIC DEERFIELD CONSORTIUM This is a collation of historical image resources from Amherst, Hampshire, Historic Deerfield, Mount Holyoke, Smith and UMASS Amherst under one roof, and allows you to search them in one hit. Unfortunately, the interface, search functionality and tagging are quite poor. Still, it is a valuable resource for US-centric blogs (it also has British images) and worth investigating. The site carries this copyright information: “The images and texts associated with the objects on this website are protected under United States copyright laws. We are pleased to share these materials as an educational resource for the public for non-commercial, educational and personal use only, or for fair use as defined by law. If you are interested in using images or text from this site please contact the appropriate institution.”
There is a list of participating institutions, who have made images with “no known copyright restrictions” available. Each has a separate rights statement.
From the website: “The Frick Art Reference Library is digitising its photograph archive, a collection of more than one million photographic reproductions of works of art by fourth to mid-20th-century artists trained in the Western tradition. The Frick also has book and e-book collections, which are available on archive.org.
GALLICA DIGITAL LIBRARY French site offering millions of books, maps, photographs, images free to browse and download. Use the advanced search (it’s helpfully translated into English).
GEOGRAPH Geograph is a personal favourite of mine. Whenever I write a story about a place in Britain or Ireland that I am unfamiliar go first to Google Maps and have a little reccie. When I’m looking for an image to use with my words, however, it’s Geograph. The project aims to collect geographically representative photographs and information for every square kilometre and allows you to use the images as long as you give the appropriate credit, which it helpfully appends to the photo or provides HTML to copy and paste.
GETTY SEARCH GATEWAY Over 100k free-to-use historical images with no copyright restrictions. Be sure that the Open Content box is ticked.
HARVARD ART MUSEUMS 234,237 images showing paintings, drawings etc as well as objects. There are 17,992 tagged “18th Century”. Hi-res versions available on request. The Rowlandson prints – at least the ones I looked at – are © President and Fellows of Harvard College, request a credit line and carry this information: The Harvard Art Museums encourage the use of images found on this website for personal, noncommercial use, including educational and scholarly purposes. Check each image carefully for the rules.
Includes Legal Portraits Online and Harvard Broadsides. Hi-res files are available but for print publication contact the library.
HISTORIC ENGLAND Thousands of historic and modern photos from the Historic England archive. This is what Historic England say about the free use of their images: “By using the Share or Embed tools provided with some images on this website, you are using a link that enables image-streaming. This links from the shared image back to our source website where the image can be viewed at high resolution with accompanying rights information. This form of image-streaming for non-commercial purposes is a permitted use. Historic England reserve the right to withdraw any link without notice, including (but not limited to) if we believe rights have been infringed.” For any use for commercial advantage or monetary compensation, you should contact Historic England for permission and licence.
HOLLIS Hollis Images is the Harvard Library’s dedicated image catalogue and includes content from archives, museums, libraries, and other collections throughout Harvard University. Access to the catalogue is open to the general public. Make sure you view the licence for each image, as some are solely for teaching or individual research.
A photostream of 5.3 million images with “no known copyright restrictions” on flickr.com
THE JOHN CARTER BROWN LIBRARY From the website: “A database of graphic political cartoons which includes the complete collection of over 500 political cartoons held by the Library. The subject matter focuses primarily on British responses to political events in the late-eighteenth century Atlantic world.” Available for commercial licensing.
JOHN JOHNSON COLLECTION OF PRINTED EPHEMERA From the website: “This collection provides access to thousands of items selected from the John Johnson Collection of Printed Ephemera, offering unique insights into the changing nature of everyday life in Britain in the eighteenth, nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Categories include Nineteenth-Century Entertainment, the Booktrade, Popular Prints, Crimes, Murders and Executions, and Advertising.” The collection is housed at the Bodleian Library in Oxford. There is a public-facing search page here: http://johnjohnson.chadwyck.co.uk/geoLocSubscription.do If you are based in the UK you have free access to the collection. Click on the link at the bottom right (‘Access this collection’). The website states that the images are “provided for internal research or educational use” only and that “No further reproduction or distribution is permitted.” More information about the collection here: https://www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/johnson
Includes 18th-century British prints, drawings, manuscripts, rare books, paintings, and decorative arts
Includes 9,000 British cartoons, some downloadable as hi-res suitable for print. Plus 27,000 LoC public domain images on flickr.com
BRITISH METHODIST BUILDINGS OXFORD CENTRE FOR METHODISM AND CHURCH HISTORY Two separate databases are available on flickr.com. One is a collection of archive photos and maps of Methodist church buildings, the other has various image resources including portraits, Wesley family letters and other manuscripts. Information about image rights can be found here https://ocmch.files.wordpress.com/2019/01/bmb-terms-of-use-tc.pdf
The Met makes it clear that ‘many of these images are available for personal enjoyment, study, educational purposes, and scholarly publication’ and that for other uses, or when an image is subject to third-party rights, you may need to licence the image.
MUSEUM OF LONDON Over 35,000 images illustrating the history of London and the life of its people from prehistoric times to the present. Rather rudimentary interface and searching (there is an advanced search facility). Email the Museum for licensing.
<a hrefMUSEUM OF NEW ZEALAND Data on almost 800,000 artworks, objects, and specimens from the museum's collections. Many of those relating to the Long 18th Century are downloadable and marked as 'no known copyright restrictions'. My standard test search of works by Thomas Rowlandson yielded eight images.
Nearly 20,000 images with “no known copyright restrictions” available on Flickr.com
NATIONAL GALLERIES SCOTLAND Similar to ArtUK, but with a better Advanced Search (in my opinion) because it allows you to search by century. Check individual images for rights and permissions.
NATIONAL GALLERY OF ART (US) NGA Images is the repository of digital images of the collections of the US National Gallery of Art. There are over 45,000 open access digital images up to 4000 pixels each, available free of charge for download and use. The advanced search allows you to filter for Open Access. There are over 12,000 British assets from 1700-1849.
NATIONAL GALLERY OF IRELAND An excellent collection of paintings and prints made in the Georgian era. Copyright and permissions are unclear so you will need to check with the gallery.
NATIONAL GALLERY OF VICTORIA 75,000 works of art with about 90% available for viewing. 30,000 images are in the Public Domain and can be downloaded at high resolution for free for publications and non-commercial use. Search is rudimentary.
NATIONAL LIBRARY OF WALES Over 600 images of oil paintings on Wikimedia Commons on an open licence. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:National_Library_of_Wales_Framed_Works_Collection
Charges for the use of images. Read the copyright page. You must have permission, even for blogs.
Paid-for images of places and objects in National Trust properties. Copyrights can be complex because they relate to both the object depicted and the image itself. Nevertheless, useful for reference.
Images can be used, reused and shared commercially and otherwise. You might need to pay a fee for hi-res.
OLD BOOK ILLUSTRATIONS Unsurprisingly this is a collection of illustrations scanned from old books. Images range from the 18th century to the first quarter of the 20th century, and the emphasis is on Victorian and French Romantic. Tagged by artist, language, publisher, date of birth. Various resolutions available.
117,000 objects of the Museum’s collection of over 240,000 are available in the online collections database. No information on copyright.
PRINCETON UNIVERSITY LIBRARY This is a collection of high-resolution digital images of selected materials from Princeton University Library, which have been chosen to serve the research and teaching needs of the Princeton University community and to showcase the distinctive collections of the Princeton University Library. Reproduction rights vary according to collection, so check these carefully. As a test I looked for the keywords london and 18th century; there were 237 results, the vast majority of them Rowlandson prints, with a few Gillrays. The search is unsophisticated.
Offers over 56,000 free eBooks and it continues to grow. All content, including images, is in the public domain. To find images: (1) Do a site search of Gutenberg. Type this in the search bar of your browser: site:gutenberg.org and follow it with a keyword eg dickens, so site:gutenberg.org library (2) Click the image search tab.
Over half a million works of art, many of them hi-res and available for free commercial use. You need to create an account first.
ROMANTIC LONDON A research project by Matthew Sangster exploring life and culture in London in the late 18th and early 19th centuries using Richard Horwood’s ‘Plan of the Cities of London and Westminster, the Borough of Southwark, and Parts Adjoining Shewing Every House’ (1792-99). There are sections for Richard Phillips’ 1804 Modern London engravings as well as Rowlandson’s and Pugin’s Microcosm.
ROYAL COLLECTIONS TRUST The Royal Collection contains world-famous and historically significant works of art, including paintings and miniatures, drawings and watercolours, prints and photographs, furniture, sculpture, jewellery, porcelain, clocks, and arms and armour. The online picture library includes only a part of the works that have been photographed. You will need to apply to use an image, for which there is a charge. Orders are usually fulfilled within 2 weeks from receipt of payment.
ROYAL MUSEUMS GREENWICH The Picture Library contains over 33,000 images and photographs depicting notable ships, trade and empire, astronomy, exploration, navigation and time. Content is under copyright and can be licensed.
THEATRE PLAYBILLS Some of the British Library’s collection of playbills have been indexed and are available here: http://blplaybills.org. From the website: “Playbills.org is a research tool to find and view playbills (theatre posters) from some collections of the British Library’s theatrical playbills. It does not contain everything the Library has to offer, but has access to about 80,000 playbills made available by the Library under a Creative Commons license. These include playbills digitised from over 500 physical volumes of theatrical English, Scottish, and Irish playbills between 1600 and 1902 (mostly 19th century).” ALSO The LibCrowds project to transcribe and tag playbills is browsable here: https://www.libcrowds.com/collection/playbills/browse
US NATIONAL LIBRARY OF MEDICINE DIGITAL COLLECTIONS A free online database of biomedical books and still and moving images, including over 67k historical images. All of the content in Digital Collections is freely available worldwide and, unless otherwise indicated, in the public domain. Includes a collection of pre-1800 English, Scottish, Irish, and American items uniquely held by NLM.
THE WALLACE COLLECTION From the website: “Copyrighted material on this website is available for non-commercial and educational purposes under a Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 (Unported) licence… Please let us know that you’re using the image and where you are using it by emailing the Picture Library. Remember: You cannot use the material commercially and, if you’re distributing the material, you cannot modify, remix or transform the material in any way.” Visit the copyright page for more information. As Bendor Grosvenor has pointed out, unfortunately, “the Wallace’s own definition of ‘academic’ is extremely limited (essentially, everything you or I would call ‘academic’ is deemed by them – like most UK museums – to actually be ‘commercial’.”
A free online database of documentary watercolours painted before 1900. You can explore the visual records on a world map, search for topics and compare watercolours from multiple collections in one place. The database includes work from private and public collections from around the world, many of which have never been photographed before. Rights vary, so be sure to check these. Run by a UK charity.
WEB GALLERY OF ART A searchable database of European fine arts and architecture (8th to 19th centuries), currently containing over 45,400 reproductions. The web design is rather outdated but this is a private initiative so perhaps not awash with investment money. The site is intended to be a free resource of art history primarily for students and teachers, so perhaps this is best regarded as a reference source rather than a resource for downloading images. No copyright information so proceed at your own risk.
Many are available to download free of charge, both commercially and non-commercially under a Creative Commons licence
Over 100k entries in the database, not all available for download. Most appear to be in the public domain. Many are hi-res jpgs.