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 ceramics, drawing, painting, sculpture, printmaking, design, crafts, photography, video, filmmaking, and architecture. Many artistic disciplines involve aspects of the 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 125 Pulitzer Prizes, more than any other newspaper. The Times is ranked 17th in the world by circulation and 2nd 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 Renoir 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 Renoir 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 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]


Related Research Articles

Amedeo Modigliani Italian painter and sculptor

Amedeo Clemente Modigliani was an Italian Jewish painter and sculptor who worked mainly in France. He is known for portraits and nudes in a modern style characterized by elongation of faces, necks, and figures that were not received well during his lifetime but later found acceptance. Modigliani spent his youth in Italy, where he studied the art of antiquity and the Renaissance. In 1906 he moved to Paris, where he came into contact with such artists as Pablo Picasso and Constantin Brâncuși. By 1912 Modigliani was exhibiting highly stylized sculptures with Cubists of the Section d'Or group at the Salon d'Automne.

Édouard Vuillard French painter

Jean-Édouard Vuillard was a French painter and printmaker associated with the Nabis.

Art forgery

Art forgery is the creating and selling of works of art which are falsely credited to other, usually more famous artists. Art forgery can be extremely lucrative, but modern dating and analysis techniques have made the identification of forged artwork much simpler.

Ely Sakhai is a United States art dealer and civil engineer who owned Lower Manhattan art galleries The Art Collection and Exclusive Art. He was later charged and convicted for selling forged art and was sentenced to 41 months in federal prison for fraud. After his release he continued to operate The Art Collection in Great Neck, New York.

Geert Jan Jansen is a Dutch painter and art forger, who was arrested in 1994.

Daniel Leopold Wildenstein was a French art dealer, historian and owner-breeder of thoroughbred race horses. He was the third member of the family to preside over Wildenstein & Co., one of the most successful and influential art-dealerships of the 20th century. He was once described as "probably the richest and most powerful art dealer on earth".

Jacob Baart de la Faille Dutch art critic

Jacob-Baart de la Faille compiled the first catalogue raisonné of the work of Vincent van Gogh, published in 1928. The catalogue was revised and republished by an editorial committee in 1970, and this version is considered to be the definitive catalogue of van Gogh's work.

The Andy Warhol Art Authentication Board, Inc. was a private corporation that certified the authenticity of works by the artist, Andy Warhol, from 1995 to early 2012.

Paul Gauguin's exhibit at Les XX in 1889 was the first important display of Paul Gauguin's works, and added to the recognition that he had begun to receive in 1888. The annual exhibition was organized by Les XX, and participation was by invitation only. Gauguin's exhibit comprised paintings from Martinique, Britanny and Arles. Many of these can be identified easily, but for several items the discussion is not yet closed.

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.

<i>Le Bassin Aux Nymphéas</i> painting series by Claude Monet

Le Bassin Aux Nymphéas is one of the series of Water Lilies paintings by French impressionist artist Claude Monet. It is an oil on canvas painting measuring 100x300 cm.

Guy Wildenstein is a French businessman, art dealer, and racehorse owner and breeder.

<i>Bords de la Seine à Argenteuil</i> painting 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.

<i>Fake or Fortune?</i> British television series that examines the provenance and attribution of notable artworks

Fake or Fortune? is a BBC One television series which examines the provenance and attribution of notable artworks. Since the first series aired in 2011, Fake or Fortune? has drawn audiences of 5 million viewers in the UK, the highest for an arts show in that country.

Lionello Venturi Italian art historian

Lionello Venturi was an Italian historian and critic of art. He edited the first catalogue raisonné of Paul Cézanne.

<i>The Beacon Light</i> painting by J. M. W. Turner

The Beacon Light is a painting by J. M. W. Turner. It was given to the National Museum of Wales by the Davies sisters. For some time it was regarded as a fake, but is now accepted as authentic.

The Grand Teddy tea-rooms paintings

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 (August 17, 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 at the Wayback Machine (archived 29 September 2014). 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.
  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 at the Wayback Machine (archived 23 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 at the Wayback Machine (archived 22 February 2014)
  17. Harris, Gareth (2013). "Modigliani Institute president arrested", The Art Newspaper at the Wayback Machine (archived 4 April 2015)
  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 Feb 2014). "Burning fake paintings could damage art history". Telegraph. Retrieved 9 August 2015.

Further reading