Recommended websites for visual research

I’m still working on exactly how to categorise or organise these .. and naturally the list will be added to as time goes on. I’ve started with the most general, or generally-applicable, gradually becoming more specific. There is a growing booklist as a separate page, but books are also referred to here when necessary. Please take the trouble to inform me if any of the links become invalid so that I can either correct or delete them. If you have any recommendations for inclusions to this list don’t hesitate to let me know, suggesting which category you think it should be in.

Database and Stock Directories

Open Libraries and eBook collections

Research guides and resources lists

Standard measurements and sizes

For an overview see ‘Common sizes of things’ in the ‘Methods’ section. An essential reference work in this area is Interior Graphic Standards which is available in ‘Student edition’ (see booklist). Illinois Capital Area Woodworkers website is one of many woodworker sites, in the US or the UK, which include helpful lists of standard dimensions for furniture design. This .pdf includes typical adult figure measurements; standard dimensions for different types of tables and desks, chairs, beds, mattresses; also standards for shelves, cabinets and kitchen appliances.

General The Getty Research Institute. Includes Photo Archive ‘an inventory of nearly two million study photographs of art and architecture’ Image bank enabling easy access to a number of special digitized image collections Open-access library of free research images.

World Heritage ‘more than 1,200 sacred sites, holy places, pilgrimage destinations, and religious buildings in over 60 countries’

Kitsune (fox god) with key to the rice granaries, from

Above Kitsune (fox god) with key to the rice granaries. Fushimi Inari Shrine, Kyoto. Credit: David Gardiner Garcia Islamic heritage archeological sites The British Museum Collections online The Huntington Archive of art and architecture throughout Asia (i.e. India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Thailand ..)

Locations UK based. Plentiful photo-documentation, but minimal background information. Best to search by keyword rather than ‘A-Z’ as above, rich visual records of interiors but sparse background information, north London town hall 1, north London town hall, north London town hall

Above ref 33935. North London town hall, built in 1930s, currently empty

Derelict places

Not all abandoned asylums and sewer tunnels .. i.e. including this now famous labour of love named by others the ‘Hobbit House’, built in the Cotswolds by a supposedly eccentric artist from the 1980s onwards.

The so-called 'Hobbit House' built by an eccentric artist in the Cotswolds

Another interesting site contributed to by ‘urban explorers’ documenting abandoned places across the world.

Locations by type schools and classrooms offices through the ages, Acme Visible Record System, 1920s

Above, Acme Visible Record Keeping Equipment 1920s

Buildings, architecture inc. interior design Royal Institute of British Architects database of images covering architecture of all periods including interior design. detailed information and images on 1,000 examples of world architecture, often including architectural drawings.

Bradbury Building atrium

Bradbury Building elevation

Above, photo (interior atrium) and elevation Bradbury Building. Architect: George H Wyman. Los Angeles. 1889-1893 Credit: Matt Nardella

Domestic interiors The Geffrye Museum of the Home presents 11 recreated period rooms.. The website features some good photos and 360 views of each (but move the 360 viewer slowly, otherwise it may make you nauseous!). The Geffrye also maintains a collection of objects and images relating to ‘the material culture’ of the English home from the 17th C to present day. Although smaller than the V&A collection, in many respects more useful for period research. A search for ‘chair’ will produce 346 entries arranged chronologically .. so for example if you’re looking for images relating to chairs around 1780 they will be grouped together. Each chair is photographed clearly in multiple views and some details and the ‘Detailed Description’ includes basic measurements. Elsewhere on the Geffrye site, which is pretty extensive, the ‘Documenting Homes’ collection concentrates on current domestic life and the previous century with lots of photographs of homes submitted by the public, starting from 1910. In the ‘Collections’ section are links to complete copies of a number of household catalogues dating from 1885 to the late 1930s.

Geffreye Museum of the Home, parlour 1790

Above Geffrye Museum of the Home, parlour in 1790. Photo: John Hammond Below living room in 1965. Photo: Chris Ridley

Geffrye Museum of the Home, living room 1965 Domestic Interiors Database Images of Sears homes 1908-40 World Images – Daily Life and Material Culture

Culture cultural, historical and fine art images. Images have reference value only, partly obscured by copyright mark unless purchased. CATENA Digital Archive of Historic Gardens and Landscapes Jewish Museum London

Current affairs and historical press images news, creative, artistic LIFE Photo Archive, hosted by Google Shorpy Historical Picture Archive

Science and medicine The name Wellcome is almost synonymous with science, particularly medicine. Although this is a selling site, images from medical or social history, contemporary healthcare and biomedical science are presented freely in a good size with an unobtrusive watermarking strip at the bottom. collection of objects from the Science Museum and Wellcome Trust illustrating the history of medicine Becker Medical Library Image Gallery Scientific and medical photos and illustrations

Natural history Plants, animals, fossils, people and landscapes

Great Britain

photo by Homer Sykes, Southend on Sea, England 1974

Above Homer Sykes, Southend on Sea 1974 representations of Shakespeare in 19th-century paintings


France French Revolution Digital Archives

Denmark difficult to judge if you don’t speak Danish, but looks good if you’re looking for photos specific to Denmark

Finland Finnish Wartime Photograph Archive. The Archive contains 160,000 photographs taken 1939-45 during Finland’s Winter War, Continuation War and Lapland War. The site can be viewed in English, but specific photo searches have to use Finnish words.

Prisoner of war camp, Parikkala 1939

Above prisoner of war camp, Parikkala, Finland 1939


United States and Canada The US Library of Congress Smithsonian Institution collections search The New York Public Library Picture Collection. Over 30,000 digitized images ‘particularly rich in images of New York City, American history, and clothing and dress’. In March 2015 this will become part of Picture Chicago, a digitized collection of old images about Chicago Canadian mail-order catalogues 1880-1975 History of the American West America during the Great Depression also Great Depression era .. 170,000 photos c. 1935-45 organized by Yale University U.S. The National Archives ‘The Way We Worked’

Historical general

20th century decades

theniftyfifties.tumblr, young women at a 1950s house party

Above  theniftyfifties.tumblr, young women at a 1950s house party


Graphics and Advertising Museum of American Packaging British Cartoon Archive Emergence of Advertising in America 1850-1920. Duke University Library’s collection of several thousand images.

Fine Art

There is a huge number of fine art websites offering the same kind of service and deciding who ‘does it better’ depends on your objective and your personal preferences. I have not included databases which either only show small thumbnails or images obscured by watermarking. Web Gallery of Art. Huge database of images, good quality. European fine arts. Google Art Project More than 45,000 open access digital images from the U.S. National Gallery of Art, many in high resolution. Images of medieval art and architecture resources for Medieval Studies|home Marburg Photo Archive, art and architecture and decorative arts. German language.

Decorative and folk art Colonial Williamsburg Online Collections. Examples of fine, decorative, mechanical and folk art .. also furniture, textiles, costumes, firearms and toys. Mainly early American but some British. The Farber Gravestone Collection. Over 13,500 images of mainly pre-1800 gravestones, Northeastern United States (can also be accessed through Luna Commons, see nearer top)

Furniture and Props

See also top ‘Standard measurements and sizes’ Online database for the Victoria and Albert Museum collections (see more about this in ‘Links’) A similar service from the Geffrye Museum of the Home

I would always go to one, or both, of these extensive collections first .. because I know that the information they provide is reliable! Both are ‘searchable’ .. general keywords or more specific terms, and both allow use of medium res images for private research (even use on websites) as long as they are credited. Geffrye requires joining and logging in whereas the V&A does not. ‘Furniture Designing and Draughting’ by Alvin Crocker Nye, describing common forms, dimensions and methods of construction. US 1900 the IKEA online catalogue is a good source for quick comparisons of simple, functional styles. Clear photos (rarely more than one full view, but often with close-up details) and measurements confined to overall height, width and depth (found in the ‘Product Information’ section for each piece). ‘Iconic Design’, tasteful pieces from classic to modern, respectfully and clearly presented. downloadable pdf reproducing some of Charles H Hayward’s visual ‘timelines’ .. essential!

Charles Hayward bedsteads

Above one of Charles Hayward’s ‘visual timelines’ reproduced by an online collection of over 200 complete works on woodworking which are in the public domain, copied in pdf form, from 1803 to the present day .. including a large selection on ‘Furniture and Design’ ‘The History of Props: A Timeline of Props and Product Usage’ compiled by Richard Finkelstein, last updated 2006. Can be a fascinating read, a bit like a ‘stocking filler’ book .. though the info is important to avoid anachronisms! Dedicated to all things concerning props, wardrobe and artifacts from film and television large selling marketplace with good pictures, info and measurements. Furniture can also be viewed by period. bills itself as ‘the world’s largest curated marketplace for vintage and antiques’, Italian hand-carved walnut loveseat furniture details

Above, late 19th c Italian hand-carved walnut loveseat in the Rococo manner. Showing the amount of visual info often provided.

Eric Eakin's bedpan collection

Above, Eric Eakin’s bedpan collection company based in Taunton, Somerset. Very good quality photos, usually including one with measurements added. large portal site ..

Historical moving image the British Film Institute’s recently opened collection of thousands of short films .. amateur, documentary and ‘public information’ .. available to watch online, mostly for free, using the BFIplayer

'Around the Village Green' 1937

Above still from ‘Around the Village Green’ 1937, from BFI ‘Britain on Film’. A tea-cosy version of Essex village life!

Surfaces and Textures see longer description of this site in ‘Links’ an informative and fairly authoritative page good source of repeatable patterns. Right click on pattern image and click ‘Save background as.’

Figure reference, anatomy (drawing or modelling)

This requires a separate list of its own which should be coming in due course..

Costume The Costumer’s Manifesto Wiki .. a huge, rather daunting resource site originally started by Tara Maginnis in 1996. Due to its size and age it will inevitably suffer from weak joints, but it’s well worth trying! Fashion, Textile and Costume Librarians group blog perhaps as an antidote after the above. Hasn’t been going for long, but useful links and articles ..


Above from, not attributed The Costume Gallery’s Research Library. Subscription site a huge list of books and websites invaluable for detailed costume research The Symington Collection of corsetry and under-garments from the 1850’s onwards. For his ‘Soldiers Inventories’ photographer Tom Atkinson laid out everything in a soldier’s kit, in 13 photographs spanning 1066 to 2014. See for an explanation of the items Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Costume Institute;jsessionid=370546207B5842BEAC3A23AF30D6B6E9?sort=Title%2CDate_Original%2CLanguage%2CCoverage&pgs=50&res=0&cic=PRATTPRT%7E12%7E12 Pratt Institute Fashion Plate Collection. From the French ‘La Gazette du Bon Ton’ 1922 an impressive looking site, full of promise .. but also a very serious commercial enterprise! It might be all you’ll ever need, but with no free trials for individuals and the smallest subscription c. £40 for 3 months, it will cost to find out .. unless your institution already subscribes!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s