People from around the world have gained instant access to the Auckland Art Gallery, as it joins top museums and galleries on Google's virtual visiting tool.

Google Art Project, a website, expanded overnight the number of galleries that can be explored from 17 to 151, in 40 countries, including the Auckland Art Gallery and Te Papa.

High resolution photographs of artworks can be zoomed in to see details of brush strokes and the grain of canvases.

"I think this will generate huge interest," said Auckland gallery director Chris Saines.


"And to be counted among some of the major art collections in the world is something we're tremendously proud about."

He said it was not daunting to be presented side-by-side with the top collections around the world, from places like Tate Britain, the Palace of Versailles and Van Gogh Museum.

"It's really not because each gallery or museum in the world has its own history and collection's strength."

Extraordinary New Zealand works were represented better in Auckland than any gallery in the world, he said.

The gallery has about 1500 pieces in its collection, but only 85 will be on the website.

"Nothing replaces the experience of the original, but you've got to remember people around the world are looking for information and images of particular works. It's an opportunity to get an intimate insight.

"You can literally get closer than is even possible with the human eye."

The website would "whip up" an apetite for seeing the artworks in person, he said.

For some galleries around the world, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Art Institute in Chicago, Google also offers a virtual walk-through of the halls.

Company spokeswoman Kate Mason said more than 20 million visitors had already visited Google Art Projects before its expansion.

"The cool thing, particularly for the the New Zealand collection, is there's many elements of New Zealand culture and particularly Maori culture that might not have got this global exposure had they not been in on the Google Art Project," she said.

"That's something really exciting, to look through and get what that country's people are actually like."

Pockets of interest for New Zealand art would pop up in unusual corners, she said.

"If I've learned anything at all from my time in Google - there's just no end to what people can be interested in anywhere in the world.

"You see the stats for videos on You Tube getting audiences from all over the world and sometimes counter-intuitive ones."

A Lamington recipe had recently become popular - in Iraq.

"That's a hilariously fabulous example," she said.

"People who might never have had an interest in Maori art or early New Zealand artefacts can have that experience and it could become their devoted passion."