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Caught in the Net

Holidays can be hard work. Imagine yourself this summer in a foreign city, tramping around with a guide book - great architecture to admire, museums and galleries to visit, views to photograph - when all you really want to do is to sit in the sunshine and watch your ice-cream dripping gently over your shoes.

Now you can take the strain out of the sightseeing season. In the course of the holidays, this column will let you travel the globe without leaving the torpid comforts of your home. We're talking Internet tourism, beginning this week with an armchair guide to art galleries in five continents.

The first stop on this whirlwind tour is the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. Here you can trawl one of Europe's greatest storehouses of art, seeing pictures by Leonardo da Vinci, Botticelli, Michelangelo, Veronese, Caravaggio and Giotto, without the hassle of queues and crowds. The explanatory essays come with English translations and there are mini-videos giving you a spin around a few of the rooms.

If you were interested in downloading any of these pictures for later use, this gallery is serious Christmas card country.

If you want to take a lurch forward in art history, step across the Atlantic to New York's Museum of Modern Art. With canvases by Cezanne, Van Gogh, Matisse, Picasso, Mondrian and Pollock, this museum shows the stepping-stones of modern art, with images designed to be shown on the Internet.

Touring the Whitney Museum of American Art is like touring around the notepad of a particularly uptight designer. If this is all a bit too easy and familiar, then stroll across to the Whitney Museum of American Art. With its ultra-cool stark lettering on empty spaces, this feels like you're walking around in the notepad of a particularly uptight designer. When an entirely blank page comes up, you're not sure if this is the desired effect or a fault with your computer. And I have to say I left without having any idea what was going on at all.

Far more inspiring and actually something of a surprise is the Durban Art Gallery in South Africa. This was founded in the last century by the colonial British and its contents reflect three strands in the country's history - British art (represented by painters such as Wyndham Lewis and Paul Nash), work by pre and post-apartheid South African artists and traditional Kwa-Zulu arts and crafts.

Another place you might not think of looking (deftly switching continents), is the Singapore Art Museum. This is a well-designed site, with a selection of work showing the development of painting in Singapore in the last century, with its blend of influences from Asia and Europe. And if you're in the mood, there's a special section with educational activities.

By way of collecting a full set of continents, we can spin neatly across to the Auckland Museum in New Zealand, which offers examples of Maori art - in the form of greenstone and wood carvings and weaving. But it has to be said that these don't reproduce as well on screen as pictures.

How does this all compare to the real thing? Well, not at all really. Even though the picture quality might be quite good, it can't beat the intimacy of seeing a painting close-up. But then again, unless you're very quick with a Stanley knife, there aren't many galleries that let you take your favourite pictures home with you. And anyway, how many continents have you been to this afternoon?

The Uffizi Gallery is at http:www.uffizi. The Museum of Modern Art, New York is at http:www.moma.orgmenu.htm The Whitney Museum of American Art is at http:echonyc.comwhitney Durban Art Gallery is at Singapore Art Museum is at Auckland Museum is at

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