Ship portraits: uncovering our collection

Half marathon notice

Visitor notice: On Sunday 4 March Cutty Sark and the museum car park will be closed for the Vitality Big Half Marathon. All other museums will be open as normal and DLR and rail links will be running. Find out about road closures

Curator of Art, Katy Barrett, is working with an amazing team of volunteers to help digitise our collection of Ship's Portraits.

Ships are central to the National Maritime Museum. The changing design, use and peopling of ships over time can give us wonderful stories about our relationship to the sea. One important but under-appreciated resource in finding these stories is the museum’s collection of ‘Ship Portraits’: painted, drawn or printed images of particular ships. Just like human portraits, the ships are shown with their defining characteristics, in noteworthy situations, and in relationship to other ships and people.
van de Velde Ship Portrait
An ongoing project at the museum aims to digitize and catalogue this group of thousands of portraits for public access. So much of our work could not happen without the contribution of dedicated volunteers, and the Ship Portraits Project is no exception. This blog introduces the cataloguing work that five wonderful volunteers currently undertake once a week in the Caird Library. They will be contributing a regular series introducing some of their experiences and more exciting discoveries. 
Volunteers at the National Maritime Museum
Since the opening of the Sammy Ofer Wing in 2011, a large proportion of the museum’s collection of prints and drawings has been housed in the Caird Library. Here any member of the public can order works through our Collections Online to view in the reading room. In many ways this echoes the organization of the museum in the 1970s, when a dedicated Print Room gave similar access. However, access to information, then, was a little more complex. 
With no computer database or online collection, works were catalogued on a series of cards, with useful classifications by author, title, subject etc. 
Ship's portraits at the National Maritime Museum
A resource for ship information was created, bringing together the museum’s ship portraits with data sheets on the ship’s shown and details of the artwork. This was a labour of love, requiring all of the relevant works to be photographed, and type written sheets to be created for each. One of my predecessors as art curator remembers the backbreaking work of carrying the boxes of prints up and down to the photo studio, in his early years at the museum. 
Cataloging ship's portraits in the Caird Library
Today, as we steadily produce high-resolution digital photos of these works, the Ship Portrait volunteers are using the files to enhance our database, identifying the ships represented, adding information, and writing descriptions of the images that depict them. In this series of blogs they will share some of the vessels and images that have caught their interest…
Voulnteers at the National Maritime Museum
Hear from our volunteers in the first blog in the series
There are many different ways in which volunteers support this Museum. Our website is the best place to check for current opportunities