Catalogue raisonné

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A volume from Graham Reynolds's catalogue raisonne of John Constable. The early paintings and drawings of John Constable cover.jpg
A volume from Graham Reynolds's catalogue raisonné of John Constable.

A catalogue raisonné is a comprehensive, annotated listing of all the known artworks by an artist either in a particular medium or all media. [2] The works are described in such a way that they may be reliably identified by third parties.

Visual arts art forms that create works that are primarily visual in nature

The visual arts are art forms such as painting, drawing, printmaking, sculpture, ceramics, photography, video, filmmaking, design, crafts, and architecture. Many artistic disciplines such as performing arts, conceptual art, textile arts also involve aspects of visual arts as well as arts of other types. Also included within the visual arts are the applied arts such as industrial design, graphic design, fashion design, interior design and decorative art.

Artist person who creates, practises and/or demonstrates any art

An artist is a person engaged in an activity related to creating art, practicing the arts, or demonstrating an art. The common usage in both everyday speech and academic discourse is a practitioner in the visual arts only. The term is often used in the entertainment business, especially in a business context, for musicians and other performers. "Artiste" is a variant used in English only in this context; this use is becoming rare. Use of the term to describe writers, for example, is valid, but less common, and mostly restricted to contexts like criticism.


There are many variations, both broader and narrower than "all the works" or "one artist". The parameters may be restricted to one type of art work by one artist or widened to all the works by a group of artists.

It can take many years to complete a catalogue raisonné, [3] and large teams of researchers are sometimes employed on the task. For example, it was reported in 2013 that the Dedalus Foundation (established by the abstract-expressionist painter Robert Motherwell) took 11 years to complete the three-volume catalogue raisonné of Motherwell's work which was published by Yale University Press in 2012, [4] with approximately 25 people contributing to the project. [5]

Robert Motherwell was an American painter, printmaker, and editor. He was one of the youngest of the New York School, which also included Philip Guston, Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, and Mark Rothko.

Early examples consisted of two distinct parts, a biography and the catalogue itself. Their modern counterpart is the critical catalogue which may contain personal views of the author. [6]


The term catalogue raisonné is French, meaning "reasoned catalogue" [7] (i.e. containing arguments for the information given, such as attributions), but is part of the technical terminology of the English-speaking art world. The spelling is never Americanized to "catalog", even in the United States. [8] [9] The French pluralization "catalogues raisonnés" is used. [7] [lower-alpha 1]

Role in authentication of artistic work

The New York Times has described catalogues raisonnés as the definitive, scholarly compendia of an artist's work, the "supreme arbiter of the genuine and fake". [10] In the case of deceased artists the producer of a catalogue raisonné which is regarded as a standard text may have considerable power to determine whether a particular work is regarded as authentic or not. [lower-alpha 2] In this context "producers" may include authors, editors, committees or publishers.

<i>The New York Times</i> Daily broadsheet newspaper based in New York City

The New York Times is an American newspaper based in New York City with worldwide influence and readership. Founded in 1851, the paper has won 127 Pulitzer Prizes, more than any other newspaper. The Times is ranked 18th in the world by circulation and 3rd in the U.S.

Inclusion in or exclusion from a respected catalogue raisonné can have a considerable effect on the market price of a work, amounting in some cases to large sums of money. Inclusion has been called the difference between "great wealth and the gutter", [10] and auction houses sometimes refuse to handle unlisted works. [11] As a result, catalogue raisonné authors have been the targets of lawsuits, and allegedly of bribes and even death threats [11] although no evidence of the latter has reached the courts.

In an edition of the television programme in the BBC documentary series Fake or Fortune? broadcast in the United Kingdom on 19 June 2011, the subject was the authenticity of the Claude Monet painting Bords de la Seine à Argenteuil . The painting was submitted to the Wildenstein Institute which is the publisher of the catalogues raisonnés [12] most widely accepted as authoritative on the subject of Monet paintings. The result of this submission was that the Institute, acting in accordance with the wishes of a descendant of the original author of the catalogues, refused to include it in future editions. This decision was taken despite the fact that the Institute had been presented with considerable evidence of the painting's authenticity. [13]

In contrast to this decision the edition of the programme broadcast in the United Kingdom on 19 January 2014 investigated one of a group of paintings reputedly by French post-impressionist Édouard Vuillard and on this occasion a committee of the Wildentstein Institute decided that the painting should be included in their catalogue raisonné for the artist. [14] The art dealer and historian Philip Mould stated while presenting the programme that this painting would be worth approximately £250,000 if it was accepted for inclusion in the catalogue raisonné, but that if it was not accepted it would be worth approximately £1,500 'as a piece of decorative art' – less than 1% of the full value. [15]

In 2012 the New York Times reported that some scholars and artists' foundations have decided not to publish future catalogues raisonnés because they fear being sued by buyers or sellers unhappy with their conclusions. [11] The question of whether producers of catalogues raisonnés should accept responsibility for determining authenticity of works was debated at a seminar on 29 March 2012 held at Christies, New York under the auspices of the Catalogue Raisonné Scholars Association. [16]

An example of individual policies is given by the Wildenstein Institute's stated policy with regard to authentication of artworks which (at 8 February 2014) was as follows: 'After examination, and based on the opinion of the members of the committee, a recommendation is made in the form of the intention to include or not to include the work under study; a third possibility also exists, that of continuing the examination of the work. Under no circumstance is a recommendation to be considered as a certificate of authenticity or appraisal, and no justification will be provided for said recommendation.’ [6] This policy contrasts with the text of the letter from the Institute which was read out on the television programme about the Monet painting, in which the Institute appeared to reject the authenticity of the work.

Difficulties can occur when more than one catalogue raisonné is published for the same oeuvre. The work of the artist Amedeo Modigliani is the subject of at least five catalogues raisonnés. [17]

Destruction of paintings

Even if there is no published catalogue raisonné for an artist there may be an organisation which publishes authentications of work which are regarded as having the same effect as a formal catalogue. In the edition of Fake or Fortune? first broadcast in the United Kingdom on 2 February 2014, an example of such a committee was featured. The subject of the programme was a painting which bore a signature reading "Marc Chagall" thus implying that it had been painted by the Russian-French artist of that name. It had been included in a reference work on the painter, but not in the most recent edition of that work, and forensic tests showed that it was painted with pigments not available at the time it was purported to have been executed. Despite this uncertain evidence of authenticity the makers of the programme submitted it to a group referred to as the "Chagall Committee", which includes descendants of the artist. This committee ruled that the painting is a fake and sought its destruction either with the agreement of the owner or, failing that, by court order under the French law of Droit moral . [18] The art historian Dr Bendor Grosvenor criticised the Chagall Committee's decision to seek the destruction of the painting, [19] which contrasts with the policy of the Wildenstein Institute when works are submitted to it: 'Whatever the committee's recommendation, the work will be returned upon presentation of the consignment receipt'. [6] Presenter and art dealer Philip Mould said "I would now [think] three times or more before sending it to Paris. Ugly acts like the one proposed by the Committee can have the effect of damaging the progress of art history." [20]


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A Wildenstein Index Number refers to an item in a numerical system published in catalogues by Daniel Wildenstein, a scholar of Impressionism, who published catalogues raisonnés of artists such as Claude Monet, Édouard Manet and Paul Gauguin through his family business, Wildenstein & Company. In these catalogues, each painting by an artist was assigned a unique number. These index numbers are now used throughout the art world, in art texts, and on art websites to uniquely identify specific works of art by specific artists.

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<i>Bain à la Grenouillère</i> painting by Claude Monet, 1869

Bain à la Grenouillère is a painting by the impressionist painter, Claude Monet.

<i>Snow at Argenteuil</i> painting by Claude Monet

Snow at Argenteuil is an oil-on-canvas landscape painting from the Impressionist artist Claude Monet. It is the largest of no fewer than eighteen works Monet painted of his home commune of Argenteuil while it was under a blanket of snow during the winter of 1874–1875. This painting—number 352 in Wildenstein’s catalogue of the works of Monet—is the largest of the eighteen. The attention to detail evident in the smaller paintings is less evident in this larger picture. Instead, Monet has rendered large areas of the canvas in closely like tones and colours of blue and grey. The application of smaller strokes of greens, yellows, reds and darker blues breaks up these large expanses, and the almost choreographed dispersal of these various colours helps bind the picture together. Paint at the depicted road surface is thicker than elsewhere in the painting, and impasto is suggestive of the feel of disturbed snow.

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Georges Wildenstein French art historian

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<i>Bords de la Seine à Argenteuil</i> Bords de la Seine à Argenteuil (Banks of the Seine at Argenteuil) is an oil painting controversially not accepted by the Wildenstein Institute which publishes the Catalogue Raisonné of works by Claude Monet.

Bords de la Seine à Argenteuil is an oil painting controversially not accepted by the Wildenstein Institute which publishes the catalogue raisonné of works by Claude Monet. The painting is a landscape depicting the River Seine at Argenteuil in France. It is owned by Englishman David Joel.

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The Grand Teddy tea-rooms paintings Three oval paintings by Édouard Vuillard

The Grand Teddy tea-rooms paintings is a collective name for three glue distemper oval paintings executed by Édouard Vuillard for Le Grand Teddy tea-rooms in Paris in 1918. The largest is privately owned, but is sometimes exhibited. One of the smaller works was featured on an episode of the BBC television programme Fake or Fortune? which first broadcast on 19 January 2014. The location of the third is currently unknown.

Brian Balfour-Oatts British art dealer

Brian Balfour-Oatts is a British art dealer, collector and writer, particularly noted for his 2005 publication William Scott: A Survey of His Original Prints ISBN 0954941802, the standard reference work and de facto catalogue raisonné of William Scott's graphic work.

Wildenstein Institute art institute that produces catalogs by members of the Wildenstein family of art historians

The Wildenstein Institute is a French art institute that publishes catalogues raisonnés and scholarly inventories.

Marc Restellini is a French art historian, museum director, founder of the Pinacothèque de Paris, and a specialist on Amedeo Modigliani.


  1. Reynolds, Graham. The Early Paintings and Drawings of John Constable, (London: Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art and Yale University Press, 1996) ISBN   9780300063370
  2. "What is a Catalogue Raisonné?", New York Public Library.
  3. Roeder, Oliver (17 August 2017). "One Art Lover's Crusade To Catalog The World". FiveThirtyEight . Such a catalog can itself represent the life’s work of the scholar who compiles it. It took Jacob-Baart de la Faille 11 years to complete van Gogh’s catalog. Monet’s catalog was published over a span of 18 years by a French billionaire. And it took 46 years for all of Picasso’s catalog to be released, while its publisher sold his car and apartment to finance the project.
  4. Flam, J.; Rogers, K.; and Clifford, T. (2012). "Robert Motherwell Paintings and Collages: A Catalogue Raisonné 1941–1991". Archived from the original on 29 September 2014. Retrieved 9 February 2014.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link). Yale University Press. ISBN   9780300149159.
  5. Boroff and Kazakina (2013). A $40,000-an-Hour Fee, Lawsuits Rock Artist Foundations",
  6. 1 2 3 "Catalogue Raisonné, Critical Catalogue". Wildenstein Institute. Archived from the original on 23 February 2014. Retrieved 2 February 2014.
  7. 1 2 "Catalogue raisonné", Online Merriam-Webster Dictionary.
  8. "Car-Caz". 13 July 2007. Archived from the original on 13 July 2007. Retrieved 26 November 2018. Although 'catalogue raisonné' was originally a French term, English speakers have used it for a long time.
  9. FAQ, placing the Catalogue Raisonné in context with other types of art catalogues: "What Is a Catalogue?". Archived from the original on 9 September 2017. Retrieved 19 February 2008.
  10. 1 2 Cohen, Patricia (19 June 2012). "In Art, Freedom of Expression Doesn't Extend to 'Is It Real?'", New York Times.
  11. 1 2 3 Cohen, Patricia (2 February 2014). "A Modigliani? Who Says So?", New York Times.
  12. ""Catalogue of Publications", Wildenstein Institute". Archived from the original on 23 February 2014. Retrieved 9 February 2014.
  13. "Reviews". The Arts Desk. 23 March 2012. Archived from the original on 13 July 2018. Retrieved 27 March 2012.[ verification needed ]
  14. "Painting Bought For £3,000 On Ebay Actually Worth A Fortune". Huffington Post . 20 January 2014. Retrieved 24 January 2014.
  15. Transcribed from BBC iPlayer: Fake or Fortune? S3 E1/4: "Vuillard",
  16. ""Programs", Catalogue Raisonne Scholars Association". Archived from the original on 22 February 2014. Retrieved 9 February 2014.
  17. Harris, Gareth (2013). ""Modigliani Institute president arrested", The Art Newspaper". Archived from the original on 4 April 2015. Retrieved 9 February 2014.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
  18. Alberge, Dalya (1 February 2014). "The man whose 'real Chagall' could now be burnt as a fake, (2014/02/01).
  19. (2014). "Mon Dieu - le feu! (ctd.)", Art History News.
  20. Mould, Philip (2 February 2014). "Burning fake paintings could damage art history". Telegraph. Retrieved 9 August 2015.

Further reading