FEATURED MEMBER – Harriet Bridgeman

Posted on January 27, 2010


Founder of the Bridgeman Art Library


The Bridgeman Art Library encompasses the world’s largest collection of fine art images administering and licensing over 8,000 museum and private collections throughout the world from more than 29,000 artists.  Using the latest technology they create high quality reproductions of cultural and historical art images. In addition to fine art design, antiques, maps, architecture, furniture, glass, ceramics, anthropological artifacts and many others also feature in their collection.

While working as an editor of illustrated art books Viscountess Bridgeman formed The Bridgeman Art Library in 1972 as a central source of fine art imagery, running the company from the basement of her home in London’s Notting Hill.  Over the next decade the word spread and both the archive and client bases grew rapidly.  By the early 90s, work had begun on a digital database of every image in the collection.  A large office opened in London’s Bayswater area in 1995, which was followed by the opening of the New York office 2 years later alongside the Bridgeman Art Library Copyright Service.  In 1997 Harriet was awarded the European Women of Achievement Award in the Arts.  The award was given in recognition of the Bridgeman Art Library’s promotion of European culture and the European scope of its clients, collections and research.

Over the millennium The Art Library went online becoming the first fully searchable platform and one of the web’s most significant cultural resources.  Two more offices were subsequently opened, one in Paris and another in Berlin.

In 2005, Harriet was voted the International Business Woman of the Year and in 2006, she founded the Artists’ Collecting Society to collect Artists’ Resale Rights on behalf of UK-based artists.  2007 signified changes in the company’s management as she became the Executive Chairman of the Art Library.

Q.  You came up with the idea to create The Library out of the need for it in your daily work. Did you realize at that point the scale of the undertaking or did it just evolve over time?

A.  No. I doubt, when you start anything on a small scale without a business plan and without any major investment, you spend much time quantifying its rate of expansion. I was convinced there was a need and in the context of acquiring and cataloguing images, it was important not to develop too quickly because accurate and detailed metadata which required expensive manpower was essential to the success of the project. It evolved over time and like any small project, after the initial start up period, the rate of growth increased more rapidly each year. 

Q.  It’s been mentioned that the goal of the library is to cover the entire history of mankind’s relationship with art. How long do you think it will take to become a reality?

A.  I think we have already reached that point. There are very few significant gaps in our database. We are now mainly adding more choice to what we already have. 

Q.  The Art Library passes on 50% of the reproduction fee to help maintain the world’s great art and make it accessible. What else do you feel could be done to help conserve and exhibit museum’s and art owner’s works?A.  Funding is obviously essential and the best we can do is to contribute to this. We can also facilitate the job of exhibition organizers by making their searches for specific artists and paintings a great deal easier. 

Q.  In 1999 The Bridgeman Art Library was involved in a landmark United States District Court case with Corel Corp., where it was determined that exact photographic copies of two-dimensional works in the public domain cannot be copyrighted.  How did the decision affect The Library and what, if anything has changed in the way it is being managed?

A.  This decision was less significant than subsequent press reports have made out. This was a decision made by Judge Kaplan in the New York district court and it only stands as legislation in that particular area. There was a strong feeling that this decision would never have been reached in a UK or a European court and in fact the case was re-enacted by St. Mary’s College, University of London, which specializes in intellectual property and this conclusion was confirmed after a debate following presentations by the French lawyer for the Picasso Foundation, Professor Dreier of Germany and a London barrister Richard Edwards (3 Verulam Buildings), representing Andrew Sutcliffe QC. I don’t think that the Corel decision has had any marked effect as our images are still protected by contract law. It will be interesting in this context to see the outcome of the Wikimedia case if the National Portrait Gallery takes legal action against them, as they are currently threatening, for allowing 3,000 of their images to be displayed on the internet and subsequently refusing to take them down. 

Q.  Works such as The Encyclopedia of Victoriana and The British Eccentric are some of the sixteen books written, edited, and co-authored by Harriet Bridgeman. Are you planning on writing anything else?

A.  My work in the picture library more than fills my time, so I have no plans at the moment to write more books. 

Q.  What are your plans for 2010?

A.  I want to concentrate more on the Artist’s Collecting Society and prepare for derogation, which will be introduced in 2012, by signing up more artists’ estates. I would also ideally like to expand the activities of the collecting society. 

Posted in: regular