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Google's Art Project website is seen on a laptop computer during its launch at the Tate Britain gallery in London February 1, 2011.

STEFAN WERMUTH/STEFAN WERMUTH / REUTERS

The Art Gallery of Ontario is the first Canadian museum to join the Google Art Project, the search-engine giant announced Tuesday.

The online project, which allows visitors to take a 360-degree virtual tour of a museum and its art, was launched last year with images from 17 international museums including London's Tate Gallery, the Uffizi in Florence and the Palace of Versailles in France. Tours use the Street View option of Google Maps to show galleries and then let viewers zoom in on some individual art works using high-definition photography.

The second phase, which launches Tuesday, will add 100 more museums, including Toronto's AGO and 58 artworks from its 80,000-piece collection of European and Canadian art. Viewers will be able to click on such iconic images as Tom Thomson's The West Wind and Paul Kane's Scene in the Northwest – Portrait of John Henry Lefroy as well as paintings by such European artists as Paul Gauguin, Frans Hals and James Tissot.

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"It increases accessibility," said Google spokesperson Wendy Rozeluk. "If you have planned a trip but never been able to go, or if you are a student, you can explore art you would never be able to see."

"They are not trying to be the be-all and end-all but to provide a museum experience that most museums can't yet achieve," added Jim Shedden, head of digital content and publishing at the AGO. He explained that the gallery pays for the photography itself as part of the ongoing process of digitizing its collection, but that Google offers a higher resolution version than what is on most museum websites.

The second phase of the project adds many U.S. collections including those of the museums of modern art in both New York and San Francisco, and the National Gallery of Art in Washington.

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