THE National Gallery has already been captured on CD. The Louvre is accessible on the Internet. Now, with the launch of the first British contemporary art gallery on the World Wide Web, the people who collect paintings need never leave home to make their purchases.
The first show - opening on 14 February to a private view with a potential attendance numbered in the millions - comprises the latest works of Peter Blake, a founding father of Pop Art and now pioneer of the airwaves.
Simply tap in the magical stream of letters and digits, view the works, and place your order. The entire transaction can be done in seconds.
Blake, who is currently Associate Artist at the National Gallery, has produced a series of silk-screen prints inspired by his time there.
For pounds 250 per print, art lovers can buy from the series Madonna on Venice Beach, in which skateboarders and bathers share that chic and crazy stretch of Californian coast with various manifestations of the Madonna - from the demure and devotional creatures which form one third of the National's collection to the muscular singing star who bears that name. The prints show "a magical situation. The viewer can make up his own story," says Blake.
The gallery online is the brainchild of John Fenton, balding and pony- tailed survivor of the Sixties and Seventies rock scene. When Peter Blake designed the famous album cover for the Beatles' Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, it was Fenton who did the marketing.
Despite his record of enterprise he says it took him 10 years "to get over my Luddite attitude" and embrace the new technology. Now he is messianic on the subject.
Normal galleries, he says, are "restricted by mailing lists; restricted by geography". But the gallery online will be open to everyone on the Internet for 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Soon he plans to develop his project into the complete virtual experience: "We will be able to walk into a gallery and walk round the sculptures and paintings to get a better look. …