The National Gallery may still be basking in the success of its grand new entrance and Aboriginal art wing, but now it’s possible to explore parts of the collection without leaving the house.

The gallery has become one of the first in the southern hemisphere to join the Google Art Project, an initiative that gives art enthusiasts the chance to see works of art online via super high-resolution – or gigapixel – images from galleries, museums and collecting institutions all over the world.

The images are of such high quality that viewers can see detail that isn’t obvious to the naked eye.

Conceived by a small group of Google employees who were using their ”20 per cent” time – the creative space given to staff to develop their own ideas – the project began by exploring how technology could be used to make art more accessible.

London’s Tate Modern was the first gallery to provide free access to its collection via the project last year, and there are now 151 cultural institutions in 40 countries taking part, including six in Australia.

The National Gallery in Canberra has led the project with Google in Australia, allowing Google technicians to film the collection for free and create an online experience.

Gallery director Ron Radford – who admitted yesterday that the word ”gigapixel” made him shiver with excitement – remembers a time, not that long ago, when curators complained that the onset of digital technology would discourage people from visiting art galleries.

But while Google has made it its mission to make the world as accessible as possible without having to leave the house, the quality of images online has had the reverse effect, encouraging more people to make the pilgrimage to see works in person.

”The more people see, the more they’ll want to see the original, and the more they’ll see online, the more they’ll want to come back,” he said. ”It works both ways.”

The key featured ”gigapixel” image from the gallery is Clifford Possum’s 1977 work Warlugulong.

The managing director of Google Australia and New Zealand, Nick Leeder, said Google was driven by the belief that everyone should have the chance to view works in places such as the Musee D’Orsay in Paris without having to spend $2000 on a plane ticket.

But while the Art Project will give anyone with an internet connection the chance to see high-quality images of artworks from home, nothing would ever compare to the real thing.

”The thing we’re finding actually, which is really interesting, is that while people get more digital, and this is a great way to get immersed and engaged in the art, all the evidence to date suggests that it actually drives up visitation,” Mr Leeder said.

The Google boss said the innovative project was also launched in Paris this week as part of its major global expansion.