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Wednesday, 12 May, 1999, 23:28 GMT 00:28 UK
Art goes online in virtual museum
The Yellow House by Van Gogh
Van Gogh works could soon be on show in the new virtual gallery
Britain's hidden art treasures stored in museum vaults across the country are set to go on show on the Internet in the world's first "virtual" national collection.

The 24 Hour Museum, being launched on Thursday, will give visitors an online tour of thousands of different exhibits by linking up with other Web sites.

Culture Secretary Chris Smith has announced that the museum has been given the same national collection status as, among others, the National Gallery and British Museum.

It is the first museum in the world that cannot be physically visited but is recognised by a national government.

The site will act as a gateway to about 150 individual museums and galleries.

Chris Smith
Chris Smith: "Cyber treasure house"
Works on display could soon include classics such as Botticelli's Venus and Mars, and Van Gogh's Sunflowers. Historic artefacts including Stephenson's Rocket and the Apollo 10 command module are also expected to go on display eventually.

The site, funded by a 70,000 government grant, is being launched at 1845 BST on Thursday to tie in with the start of Museums Week on Saturday.

Mr Smith called it a "new gateway to our astonishing and unrivalled cultural riches" which he hoped would encourage people to visit the real thing.

He said: "The 24 Hour Museum is a giant step forward in improving both virtual and physical access to our museums' collections.

'Important step'

"As it develops, it will swiftly become a cyber treasure house of all that our museums and galleries have to offer.

"But this is more than just an Internet museum for virtual visitors. It is already a gateway to up-to-the-minute information on where all our museums are to be found, what special attractions they offer and how they can support work in schools - serious research or simply visits as part of a day out."

Television star Loyd Grossman, Chairman of the Campaign for Museums which developed the Internet site with the Museums Documentation Association, said that giving national collection status to the 24 Hour Museum was an important step in its development.

"It will now expand, with more and better information coming online every day, and swiftly become the one-stop shop for news and information for the public," he said.

The government has been keen to boost access to UK museums and galleries, diverting money to allow further free access.

Free admission for children to England's national collections began last month.

See also:

18 Jan 99 | BETT 99
24 Hour Museum prepares to open
29 Apr 99 | Entertainment
Art online at 24-hour museum
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