A two-scale image retrieval system is developed to provide efficient search in large-scale databases as well as flexibility for users to incorporate subjective preferences during retrieval. A new clustering method is developed for images each characterized by a varying number of weighted feature vectors. Furthermore, significant meta-information is mined within every cluster. A scanning mode of retrieval is created using cluster centers, which serve as a low scale version of a database in contrast to original images. In particular, users are presented with representative images of highly ranked clusters along with prominent meta-information. This retrieval approach enables users to quickly examine a large and diverse portion of a database surrounding a query and to learn about hidden connections between visual patterns and non-imagery types of data. The clusters formed also facilitate fast search in the case of individual image-based retrieval by filtering out images whose cluster centers are far from the query. The two-scale retrieval system has been implemented on a fine art painting database. Advantages of the system have been demonstrated by quantitative evaluation of the retrieval performance.