CHARLESTON, S.C. — The Internet's virtual art gallery has a more Southern flavor now that art museums in South Carolina and Georgia have joined the Google Art Project.
Now images of dozens of works from both the Gibbes Museum of Art in Charleston and the Savannah College of Art and Design Museum of Art can be seen on the site among about 30,000 high resolution images from art museums worldwide.
The two are the only art museums in the Southeast included in the project that began last year with 1,000 images from a handful of museums. This month the Google Art Project expanded and now includes 151 museums in 40 nations.
"It started with a small group of Googlers who got together and decided they wanted to put together a platform where you could see all of the world's great art," said Google spokeswoman Becca Ginsberg.
The Georgia and South Carolina museums are among 29 in the United States that are participating.
Visitors can enter the Google Art Project site, see high-resolution images and zoom in on details. Site visitors can't save or copy the images. The site brings museum collections together in one place so art lovers don't have to go to various websites.
Lasley Steever, the program and events manager at the Gibbes, expects the museum's presence on the Google site to bring more visitors.
"If nothing else, it puts the Gibbes on the map in a larger international way," she said. "It gives audiences more access where they can learn about us. I do expect people to want to come and see the works in person."
Works from the Gibbes on the site range from a 1770 painting of Thomas Middleton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and works done in the Civil War which started in Charleston with the 1861 bombardment of Fort Sumter, to modern art from the 1970s.
"We basically wanted to give a good representation of our collection," said Sara Arnold, the curator of collections at the museum. "We picked things that are frequently on our walls. We also tried to pick items from various periods of our collection."
The SCAD Museum of Art focuses on contemporary art and design although its collection also includes historical paintings dating to the 1600s. One of the highlights included in the Google Art Project is Romare Bearden's 1970 work "Reclining Nude."
Laurie Farrell, the executive director of exhibitions for the museum, said the attention it's been getting in recent years combined with last year's 65,000-square-foot expansion has something to do with its selection by Google. She agreed being on the site will increase visitation.
"What we've been doing is on the leading edge of a teaching museum and we're getting recognized," she said. "We strived to pick a diverse cross-section of our collection highlighting gems from different periods."
Marla Loftus, a spokeswoman for the Gibbes, said the Charleston museum can tell a story of the South that few others can.
"Charleston is really the birthplace of Southern art and we've been telling that story since colonial times," she said.
Representatives from both museums say having the world's great art all on one site can spur interest in art and museums by making it more accessible.
"Think about it. Twenty years ago if you wanted to see works from the National Portrait Gallery in London, MoMA (The Museum of Modern Art in New York) and perhaps a museum in South Africa it would take a lot of travel and planning at great expense," she said. "To have this at your fingertips is an invaluable resource."