No, it doesn’t have anything to do with WikiLeaks, but Wikimedia Commons is related to another familiar Wiki based phenomenon, Wikipedia, in that both are projects of the Wikimedia Foundation.
(A wiki, by the way, is simply a kind of website, specifically, a potentially collaborative website created with wiki software, that allows for contribution, editing and administration by people with no knowledge of HTML.)
Wikimedia Commons is the Wikimedia Foundation’s online free-use media resource, containing over 7,000,000 media files — sound, video and of course, images.
Among the images are an increasingly large number of art related images — paintings, drawings, etchings, engravings and the like. It has become one of the larger art image repositories on the web (see my posts on The Athenaeum, ArtMagick, AllPaintings, The Web Gallery of Art and The Art Renewal Center). You may have noticed links to Wikimedia Commons among the links provided with a number of my articles about artists from history.
You can use the search feature at the top of every Wikimedia Commons page to look for a specific artist, of course, but one of the nice things about the arrangement of the material is that it enables a certain kind of browsing, one conducive to discovering artists and works that may be new to you.
An initial search for “paintings“, for example, brings up a page that provides access other category listings, such as Paintings by artist, Paintings by city, country, period, medium, subject, technique, and even Paintings by museum.
One of the most productive to my mind is the “Paintings by date” category, and from that landing, “Paintings by century“.
Here it’s easy to narrow down, for example into 19th century paintings. At this level, you’ll be presented with a number of thumbnails for a variety of paintings from the century, a sort of skim through some of that century’s artists, and a further breakdown into decades. Here is where I like to browse, by choosing a decade, for instance, 1880s paintings.
Though there are further breakdowns at that level, into individual years, the thumbnails for a given decade present a nicely varied selection of works to view by a variety of artists. Though hardly comprehensive, it makes for a fun way to explore and sample a selection of works by artists both familiar and not.
The images above, for example, all were represented on the 1880s paintings page as thumbnails, from the top: James Tissot, Henryk Hector Siemiradzki, Carl Spitzweg, Aleksandr Novoskoltsev, Vincent van Gogh, Willem de Zwart, John Singer Sargent, Jules-Eugé Lenepveu, Ilya Repin, Jean-Léon Gérôme, Edouard Manet and William Merritt Chase.
Once on the page for an individual work you can sometimes (though not always) click through a linked mention of the artist’s name into a page of works specifically by that artist, for example, William Merritt Chase.
The possibilities for discovering artists are extensive.
I’ll give my usual Major Timesink Warning for resources this large and potentially engrossing.