Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Mapping landscape paintings on Google Maps

I'm in two minds about a website I came across today.  MyReadingMapped maps places to historic events - or in the case of artists - landscape paintings to places on maps

The thing is that they're mapping the place in the picture - not the place from where the picture was seen and/or painted - and it's often the latter which artists are interested to see.  Not least because some of us are rather fond of trying to see what we make of the same view! (see my "Places to Paint" series)

The Google Map view of the world as seen in landscape paintings
Here's the link - The Works of Artists, Architects and Photographers in Google Map - and you can see for yourself.
Click on the map title below to go to the blog page with an embedded map, photos and background and source information about each subject.
I think the problem for me is that this has the potential for being a good idea - however it needs more content and the pins in the map need to be rather more accurate - preferably being placed "where the easel stood" literally or metaphorically!


Anonymous said...

Thanks for creating a post about my maps.

As the creator of the above maps I will try to answer your questions.

The concept the artist maps started out with the Vincent Van Gogh map. I ran across a list of addresses where he had lived which enabled me to plot his life, and in the process I discovered that I could plot where some of the paintings I found on Wikipedia were painted. The push pins for addresses are accurate considering that where Van Gogh lived has changed over time. In some cases the house is no longer there or a city developed in what was an open field. As for the locations of the easel, none of the painters thought that some idot retired art director/marketing manager 100+ years later,like me, would need the coordinates of the easel location when they painted scene. However, I did try to position the push pin from the angle and view shown in the painting by comparing the painting to the terrain map and Panoramio photos taken at the location. Any more than that is just wishful thinking.

The Frank Lloyd Wright, IM Pei, Michelangelo locations are dead on accurate.

The Van Gogh, Cezanne and Ansel Adams painting or photo locations are as accurate as can be done without an actual coordinate from the creator.

As for the content, I am not a historian by profession, so in order to be accurate I either quote and/or refer the location to a link on another authoritative site. Thus, each location in the map is cited. Also, its a map that plots a life not a book about the life. It is designed to be read with a book or online web site research to enhance your reading. If you check out my 40 explorer maps you will see that each map has a link to the explorers own eBook that was used to plot the map and that each location has a book page reference along with a quote. That is why my web site is called MyReadingMapped.

Thanks again for your help.

Katherine Tyrrell said...

Many thanks for the detailed response.

I think the basic point I'm making is that there's a big difference between where works of art are situated, what they represented and where they were painted from. When mapping landscape paintings I tend to think of that as being locating where they were painted from.

I guess I'm being picky as I've already tried to do the same thing and know how long it can take to work out the place and angle of orientation for location of where the easel stood when the artist painted the picture.

Like I said - a good idea - and one I'm sure you'll be able to improve over time.

PS Jonathan Jones of the Guardian worked out the location of the house in Brixton where Van Gogh lived while working in London - see

Anonymous said...

Thanks Katherine,

When I entered Jonathan's address into Google Map and saved it to my Van Gogh map, it placed the marker on top of the marker that was already in the map for that location. So it proves just how accurate the addresses I used are. Until now, I had no idea of how accurate they are.

RE: "Plotting the easel location from where they were painted from"

When plotting a map of a painting I have to show the item or location that was painted. To show the easel location would be confusing. Though in some locations I did do that and explained why in the pop up window for the location.

RE: "a good idea - and one I'm sure you'll be able to improve over time"

I will need to have a seance with Van Gogh and ask him. But, considering Van Gogh's mental state, I think he would object because it demeans him down to merely rendering the scene like a surveyor rather than interpreting it and expressing its character. He most likely enhanced it by romancing it, adding and deleting items in order to achieve the image he wanted. In many cases the scene no longer looks as it did in the painting.

Again, thanks so much for creating this post, it look like it sent me about 200 visitors in one day.

Katherine Tyrrell said...

Well that's very odd because I looked at the Van Gogh map yesterday and there was no marker for Brixton. The only reference to the house he lived in Brixton was in the marker for Goupil's office in central London

Hence why I provided the reference and address.

What's very interesting for artists in looking at the scene - via Google's streetview - is that you can see how much has changed in the intervening years and also, where less urbanised, how much of the scene was left in or left out by the artist. I started doing it after I started to realise that some of the landscape scenes produced by artists are highly idiosyncratic interpretations of what appears to be a realistic representation of a scene.

It's a much bigger challenge to work out where a scene was painted from - but some of us very much like and enjoy the detective work involved.

Maybe the only refinement your site needs is to indicate clearly you are only representing the location of the subject matter and not the location it was viewed from?

Katherine Tyrrell said...

I forgot to say I'm always pleased to indicate websites which provide help for artists in terms of places to paint - which is a constant theme of this blog

I'm not surprised at the number of visitors - it's a very popular blog!

You'll probably find you continue to get traffic from this blog in the weeks to come.

I'll also be referencing the website on my main blog on Sunday. That one has c. 4,300 subscribers and has a huge number of daily visitors.......

Anonymous said...

As a compromise I have added to my artist directory the following statement to clarify the issue:

The maps below match up artist or architect works with the location for which they were designed. In the case of architectural works, the locations are the actual buildings. In the case of landscape paintings, most of the locations represent the location of the subject matter painted, while others, as noted, represent an approximation of the easel location the subject matter viewed from by the painter.

I will adda variation of the comment to the landscape related maps as well.

Katherine Tyrrell said...

I think that's very helpful. It's the mix of the three different types of views which was confusing.

David J Teter said...

This is a great idea and must be a daunting task as well.
Charley Parker and I did some Art Detective searching (in comments) on a post of his, "Pissarro's views of the boulevard Montmartre" over there on 'lines and colors', and like your comment Katherine "...some of us very much like and enjoy the detective work involved.", yes it is a lot of fun!

I do agree it would be great to be able to see the easel location and/or Google view (same as the painting) whenever possible, so that 2 pics are shown, one photo of the current location, as it is today, another of the painting. And when one exists an old photo of the same location.
Although I have yet to really go through the site I would think some landscape locations can't be shown by exact position of the easel since it would require the Google camera vehicle to go off-road (to be sure it is the same view from ground level). Buildings are a different matter provided they still exist as are big subjects like National Landmarks and Parks, think Bierstadt and Niagara Falls.

Maybe an improvement could be asking outsiders help.
Locals submitting their pins (or best guess) as well as photos much like Google Maps readers can submit their own photos of locations.
I know my own area pretty well and recognize many Los Angeles and surrounding area paintings from artists from the past, particularly the mid-century California watercolorists.
Most of these of course are of streets, buildings and bridges.
Other than certain seascapes which could be found today, during the same time period the California Impressionists were painting the local landscapes and good luck finding the exact same eucalyptus tree from the same view. The best you could hope for is the same canyon or general location were it was painted.

geocodedArt said...

We share your interest in exploring the site from which a masterpiece view was painted, to be able to explore it from afar using digital tools or to be led to be site itself and be able to vie the image while there. We use the term Geocoded Art for this, and have organized content in several forums: a main site,, but also smaller collections at (, which can be used on a mobile device, as well as on Maps ( and Earth (Earth Group keyhole) and some fun with 3D fly-throughs (

Anonymous said...

I welcome any suggestions. To help improve your search of the paintings in my MyReadingMapped maps, I made Google Earth files of them that enable you to go to the push pin location in 3D at zero elevation and search for the easel location. What surprised me is how close I did come to the easel location. I did perfect some of them further, but decided to leave some that are a little off alone in order for visitors to enjoy hunting for the exact location. Some of the paintings in the Famous Paintings map have 3D rendered buildings in Google Earth if you turn on the Buildings layer so that you can see it exactly as it was painted. YOu can find these files inside the map.

I even made a Google Earth KMZ movie of one of the Cezanne paintings that covers a wide area to search in. Somewhere in that movie is the exact scene if you can spot it. You are right about the trees, Google Earth has no trees or other vegetation so you got to use a little imagination.


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