Formerly known as the Public Catalogue Foundation, Art UK created a website that has catalogued the many thousands of paintings and works on paper which are owned by public institutions such as museums, universities and councils, many of which are not on public display.
It began with oil paintings, has extended this to other pictures and works on paper and now plans to do the same with sculpture.
The initiative launched at the Flaxman Gallery at University College London yesterday and is funded by Heritage Lottery Fund, Arts Council England, the Scottish Government as well as a number of small trusts and 70 individual and corporate donors.
The 170,000 sculptures, from those found inside museums and galleries to artworks in parks, streets and squares, will all eventually be catalogued.
Art UK, a charity that is a joint venture between what was previously called the Public Catalogue Foundation, the BBC and 3000 museums and art collections, will now recruit and train the first project staff and volunteers.
It expects to start the digitisation process in the autumn and the first sculptures will appear online at Art UK next year.
As part of the project Art UK will be opening a small office in Glasgow to bring it closer to collections and audiences in Scotland.
The charity said seven partners will work alongside Art UK to deliver the project: the BBC, the Public Monuments and Sculpture Association, Culture Street, Factum Foundation, the Royal British Society of Sculptors, the Royal Photographic Society and VocalEyes.