I am curious as to why many art museums disallow photographing a painting. Some museums will allow photography if you pay them, but there are still some paintings that are absolutely prohibited to be photographed. I know it doesn't apply to all museum, but most of them prohibit it.


4 Answers 4


Because they can. That is perhaps the only true answer to your question.

As to why they would want to, just follow the money:

  • In the age of digital reproduction an unauthorized copy of a work of art can have a significant impact on sales of authorized prints or books that generate revenue for the gallery, artist, or owner of the piece.
  • If the piece is part of a popular exhibit the goal may be to keep the lines moving through the gallery. The faster the lines move the more tickets they can sell each day.
  • The incorrect assumption than because the UV rays in sunlight damage paintings, the bright burst of light from a strobe flash will also contribute to deterioration of a painting.

And of course there is always that other reason for why many things are done the way they are: "Because we've always done it that way."

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Well, maybe the flash doesn't damage the art itself but it can annoy people looking at it and affect the - usually soft - atmosphere of the gallery. \$\endgroup\$
    – clabacchio
    Jun 7, 2013 at 11:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ @clabacchio Certainly true, but isn't it also possible to take a photograph without a flash? \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Jun 7, 2013 at 16:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ Of course, and I also think that shooting paintings with the built-in flash is a bit crappy also. But nevertheless many people do, and with the Mona Lisa (to name one) it would be a continuous flashing on the protection glass. Anyway, it was just to point that out, the answer is perfect :) \$\endgroup\$
    – clabacchio
    Jun 7, 2013 at 17:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ I've never been to The Louvre, but I have seen pictures of the Mona Lisa taken by friends. I assume they do allow non-flash photography at The Louvre. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Jun 7, 2013 at 19:19

The actual reason vary from place to place but I guess common reasons are:

  1. Because they want you to buy a print in the gift shop

  2. Light from a flash can actually degrade the painting (this may be a myth, I don't have the expertize to decide based on the evidence)

  3. They don't want people standing in front of the painting too long and blocking the passage

  4. It was that way in the previous museum I worked at

  • \$\begingroup\$ Without a camera you should be allowed to stand in front of a painting for as long as your feet can take it. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 6, 2013 at 7:52
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ With regards to your point 2, Does flash photography really damage art? The persistence of a myth is interesting reading. This doesn't mean that museums won't use it as a reason, of course... \$\endgroup\$
    – Philip Kendall
    Jun 6, 2013 at 8:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ @PhilipKendall but even that article cant be considered a final oppinion. If some flashes are damaged and dont filter the UV correctly, some damage might occur, and perhaps the risk (loosing the original painting) doesn`t worth the benefit (someone showing the "look, i took a photo of mona lisa") \$\endgroup\$ Jun 6, 2013 at 13:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ @woliveirajr - ironically, the Mona Lisa is in the Louvre which allows photography, though flashes are not allowed. \$\endgroup\$
    – AJ Henderson
    Jun 6, 2013 at 13:30
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ for an in-network take on flashes damaging art, check it out on Skeptics.SE. Does camera flash destroy art? \$\endgroup\$
    – dpatchery
    Jun 6, 2013 at 14:39

One key reason is that the museum may not own the piece, and therefore, only have the right to exhibit the piece. They can not transfer the right to reproduce or allow a piece to be reproduced, because that would cause them legal issues. This is especially true in museums that are exhibiting pieces that are not part of their collection.

As others have said, flash photography can cause premature aging of ancient works, and since most camera users have no idea how to stop their camera from flashing, it is simply easier to prohibit all cameras, rather than police stupid visitors.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Can't stress the intellectual property rights question enough. Worked in a museum for years and we had a legal obligation to loaners to not let their objects be photographed. \$\endgroup\$
    – BostonJohn
    Jun 11, 2013 at 17:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ "Police stupid users"... Hahahhaa... :) \$\endgroup\$
    – Mike
    Aug 2, 2013 at 13:12

Almost all museums don't allow flash photography because flashes will may cause damage to the work over time if UV is not properly filtered.

As far as non-flash photography, a great many museums are totally fine with it, including many of the best. The Louvre in Paris and the Smithsonian in DC both allow photography of anything in their exhibits. Those that are not do so for purely financial reasons. They own the copy of the work and want to control distribution of its image to help recover the cost of obtaining the work and to contribute to their on going work.


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