Reviewed December 2014
Elizabeth Lane, Associate Librarian for Public Services
Frick Art Reference Library, The Frick Collection
The International Foundation for Art Research’s (IFAR) Catalogues Raisonnés database provides free access to information about catalogues raisonnés, both published and in process. Used concurrently, researchers may quickly identify key research materials for over 2,360 artists, in print and digital formats.
What constitutes a catalogues raisonnés has been interpreted in multiple ways; in its glossary, this database includes the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition: “A descriptive catalogue arranged according to subjects, or branches of subjects; hence gen. or loosely, a classified or methodical list.”[i] The database goes on to further refine its local use of the label: “Used in the IFAR database to refer to a thorough, reasoned and systematic documentation of all works by an artist – the oeuvre – in a given medium (such as painting, sculpture, prints) known at the time when the catalogue is prepared.”
While the focus of the database is paintings, works on paper, sculptures, and photographs, it does include some catalogues on architecture, design, and graphic works/ prints, especially when the artist in question worked in more than one medium. Additionally, the people at IFAR acknowledge the importance of, and avoid replicating the work of The Print Council Index to Oeuvre-Catalogues of Prints by European and American Artists, a freely available web-based resource that contains entries for European and American prints, print publishers, drawings, and photographs, and Japanese prints and photographs.
A simple user interface greets researchers upon arrival to the Catalogues Raisonnés database. Its default search combs both Published Catalogues and Catalogues in Preparation for relevant entries. Users may search by artist name, country of artist's birth or death, catalogue author or predetermined periods of artist's activity (for example, prior to 1400 or from 1700-1799). Alternatively, researchers may browse the database via an alphabetical index by last name. Artist entries begin with a listing of catalogues in preparation and follow with published catalogues raisonnés that are listed in reverse chronological order. Each item listed contains minimal bibliographic information, which allows for an easy print out to give to researchers working on a specific artist.
Clicking on individual titles will bring up a more complete record for the catalogue raisonné in question. For example, a search for the artist Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun leads to an entry that includes one untitled catalogue in preparation and one published catalogue. The entry for this particular untitled catalogue in preparation includes the name and contact information for the person working on the forthcoming publication. The entry also lets interested people know that the author is still reviewing works for inclusion, and when known, the anticipated publication date is included. The latter entry for the published catalogue includes key information such as author, title, and imprint, as well as helpful additional description such as number of illustrations, and whether or not the title includes an index, bibliography, exhibition list, and chronology.
This free resource is easy to navigate and a highly recommended first step for researchers doing object- or artist-specific research. This is especially true for materials or artists that may not yet have been designated a Library of Congress Subject Heading (LCSH) for catalogues raisonnés, such as the aforementioned Vigée Le Brun. For art information professionals working with the public, this is a essential resource.
[i] "catalogue raisonné, n.". OED Online. September 2014. Oxford University Press. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/28714?redirectedFrom=Catalogues+Raisonn%C3%A9s+& (accessed November 13, 2014).