Catalogues raisonnes

A standard art reference publication, providing a systematic list of the totality of an artist’s work, or that in a given medium or period, the catalogue raisonné traces its origins to the 18th century. Essential as a scholarly tool for academic researchers, it is also a source of authoritative provenance and authentication information for dealers and collectors, with an apparatus that includes titles, technical details (medium, size, etc.), dates, history (including provenance and current ownership information), exhibition details, bibliography and images. The ‘Art catalogue index (A.C.I.): catalogues raisonnés & critical catalogues of artists 1780-2008’, compiled by Noelle Corboz and Cécile de Pebeyre under the direction of Marc Blondeau and Thierry Meaudre (Geneva: Blondeau Fine Art Services, 2009) lists ca. 1,500 catalogues raisonnés of some 900 artists born between 1780 and the late 20th century. The first of two planned volumes (the second would be dedicated to Old Masters), it greatly expands the selection offered in ‘Art Books: A Basic Bibliography of Monographs on Artists’ by Wolfgang Freitag (New York: Garland, 1997).

‘A.C.I.’ and ‘Art books’ are available in print only (I wonder, by the way, if someone should start looking into the possibility of a digitisation project for classic art bibliographies, many of which are now out of print), but IFAR (International Foundation for Art Research) maintains two online databases: one of published catalogues raisonnés and a second of catalogues in preparation. The databases can be cross-searched by artist name (browsable list also available), catalogue author, nationality and period. Their listings are continuously updated, and aim to be comprehensive (although coverage figures are not provided), with the exception of catalogues of prints. These are the focus of ‘The Print Council Index to Oeuvre-Catalogues of Prints by European and American Artists’. This database is based on the work by Timothy A. Riggs, expanded and updated by Lauren B. Hewes. It can be searched by artist name or organisation name.



Print Council Index to Oeuvre-Catalogues of Prints by European and American Artists

Online catalogues raisonnés are a fast growing publishing model, with more than thirty currently completed or in progress. The Catalogue Raisonné Scholars Association organised last year a conference dedicated to it: ‘Issues of the Online Catalogue Raisonné’. The programme summarised in its introduction some of the key aspects involved in this shift: “Today, the internet offers new methods of publishing that seem to solve some of the old problems of print publishing, such as (…) searching for specific information, and updatability. But while the internet has provided unprecedented access to information that benefits the entire scholarly community, especially in the area of collections databases, it has brought with it other problems of mutability, longevity, and authority that print catalogues raisonnés do not have”

Online catalogues have some clear advantages over those in print: greater accessibility (universal access via Internet, generally lower cost), updatability (correction of errors, addition of new work or information) and, perhaps more important of all, enhanced search functionalities that allow a much fuller exploitation of the wealth of systematic information at its core. While in a book indices (or indexes) and tables of contents limit the ways in which information can be retrieved, in an online environment, full text searching, hyper-linking, automated indexing or tagging, open much more flexible ways to interact with it. Personalization and potential for creative interaction and collaboration become also a possibility.

However, in this transitional environment, where traditional scholarship methods developed by and for a print culture need to be adapted to respond to the challenges of digital media, they also raise a number of concerns. Preservation (format and software obsolescence), and versioning and historiographic record issues (lack of a reliable method of citation for a changeable resource) are important, while aesthetic issues are also significant, particularly image quality (colour calibration, light and monitor conditions, etc.), although the recent trend in the use of high resolution imaging has transformed this, offering new possibilities to researchers and other users. Legal issues (permissions and copyright) are also a recurrent consideration.

Catalogue Raisonné Scholars Association

Issues of the Online Catalogue Raisonné: A Mini Conference (2011)

Artifex Press is the first company dedicated to the publication of online catalogues raisonnés, currently working with the estates of Sol LeWitt and Agnes Martin along with living artists Chuck Close, Jim Dine, Tara Donovan, Loris Gréaud, Tim Hawkinson, Thomas Nozkowski, Sterling Ruby, James Siena, and Richard Tuttle. Announced as “coming soon” on their website, no date of release is available at present. Also in progress are 10 independent catalogues that use PanOpticon CatRais software, with Mary Cassatt’s due to be released early next year. Among those completed to date, some examples that illustrate the potential of the format include the catalogue raisonné of artists Isamu Noguchi and Iain Baxter, and print workshop and publisher Gemini G.E.L. Two not for profit, volunteer websites are also working in this area: ‘’ and ‘’.

Artifex Press

PanOpticon CatRais

Isamu Noguchi Catalogue Raisonné


Gemini G.E.L. Online Catalogue Raisonné

Library guides

At the time of writing this column, the end of July, academic libraries, barely over one academic year, start preparing for the next. One of these annual tasks involves the revision and updating of library publications, in print and online. Many of you would be familiar or already users of LibGuides, the portal product developed by Springshare, widely used by libraries in the USA and elsewhere – 36 listed for the UK in ‘LibGuides Community’, where all publicly available guides are indexed and shared.


LibGuides Community

LibGuides are primarily used to create online research/subject guides, offering a consistent and easy to navigate structure while allowing tailoring to local needs and the requirements of different groups of users. They can also be used for ITC/software guides, and guides to other facilities and services, within and outside the library. Some of the art and design libraries currently using these include the John M. Flaxman Library, School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC)(35), or the School of Visual Arts (SVA) Library (10). NSCAD integrates library guides (40) with those for other departments and services: administration, courses, etc., organised and available in the same place (as CampusGuides). In the UK, Oxford University has produced an excellent LibGuide to Art and Architecture, while University of the Arts London (UAL) Library Services is currently redeveloping its online presence, which will include the use of LibGuides.




University of Oxford: Art and Architecture LibGuide

UAL (in development)

[Grandal Montero, G. (2012) Resources online: Catalogues raisonnés. ARLIS News-sheet, no. 219, Sept.-Oct., pp. 3-4.]


One comment

  1. Reblogged this on information aesthetic and commented:
    A well written, thorough explanation of the catalogue raisonne (complete with suggested online information sources).

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