Expanding digital audience engagement at the National Portrait Gallery

Elizabeth Dawson, Collections and Database Management Assistant at the National Portrait Gallery discusses new ways of expanding digital audiences.

by Cornelius Johnson, oil on canvas, circa 1640
NPG 4759, ‘The Capel Family’  by Cornelius Johnson, oil on canvas, circa 1640

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At the National Portrait Gallery, London (NPG) our online collections pages make up nearly 50% of all website access so naturally there is a large focus on enhancing the visitor experience within these pages. Thanks to our Digitisation team over 63% of the 208,000 catalogued objects in the collection have images available. All of these catalogue records and linked images flow through directly from Mimsy XG our Collections Management System to the website and Portrait Explorer which is a digital platform within the gallery and our regional partners.

The most common route visitors take to our collection pages is via an internet search rather than the main home page or collections landing page. To improve accessibility and visitor engagement we have put a great deal of work into making relevant pages accessible directly from the one visitors find themselves on and providing as much information as possible in one place.

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Biographical captions of sitter and artists within the collection often mention people who were significant in their life or work. If these people are also in our collection we create hyperlinks to their biographies and related images to allow visitors to easily explore further. We also link to BBC Archive videos that show information about the sitter or artist, their work or the relevant collection object.

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We aim to record and make available as much information as possible about the people and objects in our collection. We’ve added 30,596 family relationship links that show up on Mimsy, the website and Portrait Explorer and for large families we have also created family trees. You can see (left) that Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley is hyperlinked to the NPG webpage of her father, husband, son and mother.

Sitters and artists are also linked to occupation related categories, professional and familial groups and geographical places. So, for instance, a visitor could choose to search for people who are Romantic poets or Parliamentarians in the Civil War. This helps to expand the ways in which the public can explore the collection and the people associated with it.

We are always working to expand and improve the ways in which the public can connect with the collection. We recently completed a large project that focused on improving the information we hold about where portraits are made and the places they portray. This came about after realising that although artist’s studios and publishers were consistently recorded in Mimsy there was little or no information about the place the images were showing. Obviously for photographs this information is usually the same but our paintings often depict somewhere other than the place where the artist completed the work.

For instance, in NPG 2936 we know that although Sir David Wilkie depicts Frederick, Duke of York and Albany in his own home he actually finished the portrait in his studio in Kensington. Both of these locations are recorded on Mimsy and are available on the website where visitors can then click on the link to London to see other portraits from the same area.

by Sir David Wilkie, oil on panel, 1822-1823, dated 1823
NPG 2936, Frederick, Duke of York and Albany by Sir David Wilkie, oil on panel, 1822-1823, dated 1823

We gathered information from existing internal sources, did further research to fill in the gaps and increased the number of object records with a place link to 83,247! These place links are far more diverse than you might expect; we currently have an enormous eighty two different UK cities and counties depicted in the collection and eighty four different countries across the world from Armenia to Zimbabwe! These city, county and country links are all available to browse on the website and allows our visitors to engage in a more visual and meaningful manner and potentially find places or people they know.

http://www.npg.org.uk/collections.php

Lizz Dawson
Collections and Database Management Assistant, National Portrait Gallery

 

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