11 Totally Free Images From NYC's Best Museums and Libraries

Over the past few months, a number of museums have begun digitizing their rare and beautiful pieces of art, historical documents, and rare artifacts, and offering them online in high-resolution, downloadable formats.

The latest museum to join in the trend is Manhattan's Metropolitan Museum, which put some 400,000 works online for free last week. But the Met isn't alone: The New York Public Library and the American Museum of Natural History recently made similar moves, too. What's behind this mass move towards democratic distribution of great works? You could argue the idea of open source knowledge is finally trickling down to staid institutions such as these—but companies like Google have also made major pushes towards getting the priceless collections of major museums online, too, which likely helped administrators and curators warm to the idea.

It's one of the coolest things the internet has to offer, and whether you're an art aficionado, a history buff, or a map nerd, there's plenty of ways you can decorate your computer or your house with beautiful historical works. Here are twelve of our favorites from the museums that offer the widest selection of free, high-resolution, downloadable beauty.


The American Museum of Natural History's Digital Special Collections

We love the AMNH—it's one of our favorite places to visit. And just last month, the museum launched a digital collection of over 7,000 photographs, rare book illustrations, art and memorabilia, most of it never before viewable by the average person. These illustrations and photographs once helped transport people to far-off lands and unexplored places; now, they transport you to a different time.

Newborn giraffe and mother from the Transactions of the Zoological Society of London, 1833

11 Totally Free Images From NYC's Best Museums and Libraries

Historic view of the American Museum of Natural History from Central Park

11 Totally Free Images From NYC's Best Museums and Libraries

Proposed design for the Florida Black Bear display at AMNH

11 Totally Free Images From NYC's Best Museums and Libraries

St. Helena's Church, Beaufort, South Carolina, photographed 1904

11 Totally Free Images From NYC's Best Museums and Libraries


The Metropolitan Museum of Art's Online Collection

The Met recently put more than 400,000 digital high-res images online, making works by Picasso, Monet, van Gogh, Degas, and many, many more available free for direct download (as long as it's for non-commercial use). You can peruse the full collection of paintings, sketches, sculptures, artifacts, and more, but here are a few of our favorites.

The Blind Man's Meal, Pablo Picasso, 1903

11 Totally Free Images From NYC's Best Museums and Libraries

Bouquet of Sunflowers, Claude Monet, 1881

11 Totally Free Images From NYC's Best Museums and Libraries

Self-Portrait with a Straw Hat, Vincent van Gogh, 1887

11 Totally Free Images From NYC's Best Museums and Libraries

Woman Drying Her Arm, Edgar Degas, late 1880s-early 1890s

11 Totally Free Images From NYC's Best Museums and Libraries


The New York Public Library's Open Access Maps

The folks at The Lionel Pincus & Princess Firyal Map Division have scanned more than 20,000 cartographic works, making them available as high-resolution downloads. They're viewable at the New York Public Library's Digital Collections, and can be downloaded, cropped, and edited using the NYPL Map Warper. A lot of these are, of course, (very) out-of-date and (very) inaccurate, but they'd still look lovely hanging on the wall of your newly-founded Map Room. Here are just a few that we found particularly interesting.

Map of the United States of America, 1873

11 Totally Free Images From NYC's Best Museums and Libraries

New York City Map, 1859

11 Totally Free Images From NYC's Best Museums and Libraries

A New Mapp of the World, 1707

11 Totally Free Images From NYC's Best Museums and Libraries


Plenty of other museums and libraries are joining suit—drop your finds in the comments, if you've got a favorite collection or image.