Reviewed December 2019
Millicent Fullmer, Acquisitions and Cataloging Librarian
Copley Library, University of San Diego
The Complete Frances Hodgkins is a freely accessible online catalog raisonné produced by the Auckland Art Gallery Toi O Tāmaki in New Zealand. It was part of the 150th anniversary celebrations of the artist’s birth (April 28, 1869), and created alongside the exhibition titled “Frances Hodgkins: European Journeys,” which also included a printed exhibition catalog. New Zealand’s largest art gallery, Auckland Art Gallery Toi O Tāmaki, dedicated 10 years of planning to the anniversary event by compiling artworks, photographs, and archival documents from around the world. One of the incentives for online catalog raisonnes, as is the case with The Complete Frances Hodgkins, is their ability to add additional material when acquired.
This is the first comprehensive online database devoted to Hodgkins, an effort long overdue for such an established female artist associated with British Modernism. While born and educated in New Zealand, Hodgkin’s oeuvre was produced while living in Europe, most notably Britain and France. In the late 1920s the artist joined the Seven and Five Society, a group that included the likes of Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore. Covering the period between 1886-1946, the online collection of paintings, drawings, textiles and archival documents reveals items long hidden from view. One of the website’s strengths is the inclusion of the artist’s transcribed personal correspondence, which spares the reader from deciphering cursive handwriting in addition to providing OCR text searching.
Simple in design, the website homepage features shortcuts to the almost 3000 items by medium (artworks, photographs, letters, and exhibitions) and genre (portraits, landscapes, still lifes, and studies). On the homepage, a main menu includes a catalog tab that navigates to a keyword search field, thumbnail images, and the following three tabsentity types: object, person, and exhibition venue. Starting with the object tab, the left sidebar can refine results by the catalog type (artworks, letters, photographs and ephemera), by such classifications as watercolor, or by collection or subject. Under the person tab, the options include have been appropriately customized to nationality, birth, and death dates. The third tab has also been customized for exhibition venue, - offering gallery, opening and closing dates, exhibition type, and location.
For the more experienced researcher the main menu provides a robust advanced search option divided into the same three tabsentity types. As with the basic search tab page, object, person, and exhibition venue feature identical customized refinements, the only change being they are now displayed as free text fields with boolean operators. The user is then provided with three different result views (list, label, or lightbox), as well as the ability to sort by relevance, date, among other categories. AFinally, another interesting feature is the “My Shortlist,” which operates as a basic wishlist. This customizable shortlist page includes email sharing capabilities without requiring an account, yet manages to save previous selections when revisiting the site provided the same browser is used. Lastly, the fourth tab labelled “Gallery” presents all of the collection’s image thumbnails;, though clickable, they serve no real purpose.
The images are high quality; however, the zoom in or out functionality is not guaranteed, nor does the website display any download options. Instead, the user is required to right-click on an image in order to save. Fortunately, all the images tested for download resulted in 300 dpi resolution. The website also places onus on the user to discover image licensing information, since the online collection has inconsistent levels of provenance information. It is also worth noting that some items catalogued do not have images assigned to them, which the advanced search addresses with a “only get results with images” option.
Until now, digital resources onf the artist Frances Hodgkins were limited to a few art works on the Tate’s website and other lesser known institutional repositories. This catalogue raisonné provides a one-stop-shop to the artist’s prolific career and access to once hidden primary source material. The content of the website would be of interest to not only enthusiasts and scholars of Hodgkins and British Modernism, but also of New Zealand history, particularly the letters and documentary photography. Given today’s growing user expectations for online image databases, the absence of any image download options seems shortsighted, as though the designers worked within the constraints of analog technologies in this regard. Perhaps the creators will continue to develop the website over time with additional funding. Overall, this open access platform has straightforward navigation and high quality content;, therefore, the Complete Frances Hodgkins is a welcome addition as a resource on its important subject.