A Catalogue Raisonné –
What is That?
I have used this term many times over the years and occasionally someone stops me to ask -- what exactly is a catalogue raisonné? I thought this would be a good time to explain the project in more detail. The words are French and the dictionary defines them as: a descriptive, analytical list; and here is my ‘easy to read’ pronunciation of the words: catalog rey-zon-ay; okay, maybe it is not 100% correct, but it works!
Now that you know the technical definition and how to pronounce it, let’s tell you what it is all about. A catalogue raisonné is a book that is written by a leading scholar with the aim of listing all of the works that the chosen artist has created. These books usually contain photographs of the works mentioned along with their complete documentation -- size, medium, provenance, signature location, date, inscriptions, labels that may appear on the reverse, exhibition history, and some go as far as including the work’s condition – something I personally think should only be noted if the painting has been drastically altered because of the restoration; otherwise this is far too subjective.
This book will also incorporate an essay on the life and work of the artist as well as examples of their signatures, listings of museums/public collections where works can be found, questionable works and a list of additional publications where the artist is mentioned. Much of this information needs to be gleaned from old books, reviews, letters, diaries, account books, legal documents, dealer’s records, etc. – just finding all of this material takes an enormous amount of time. Even after much of the documentation is found, translated (if need be) and compiled, there are often large gaps left in the life of many artists – some of which will never be filled in.
The end result is a publication that will now be considered the ‘bible’ of that artist’s work. Future buyers / sellers / researchers will now have the ability to review the catalogue and see if the work in question is listed … if it is, then there is no question, in their mind, that the work has been vetted and is believed to be genuine – at least in the opinion of the individual, or committee, that produced the book.
While the ultimate goal of these books is to list every work the artist created, that is rarely possible as so many works have been lost, destroyed, or will remain unaccounted for. Remember that not every owner knows exactly what they have and some many never know that the project is in the works ... it is only when they decide to sell that they may learn about the catalogue raisonné.
Once the book has been published, many more works seem to appear very quickly and the writer is often set on a course to begin a second volume … keeping records on all the new works and any additional information that may come to light about the artist’s life and work.
Now you may be wondering what happens to these newly discovered works while the second volume is being compiled? Since they are not illustrated in the first volume, current owners will often turn to the expert to have the work authenticated and ask for a photo-certificate – typically an 8 x 10 black & white photograph that states, on the back, that the illustrated work will be included in the next catalogue raisonné. This document will help relieve any doubt about the works authenticity, making it easier to sell. Did you know that today there are many artist’s whose works cannot be sold without being authenticated by a specific individual or committee? There are even some experts who charge many thousands of dollars for their opinion!
As I am sure you can surmise these projects are difficult ones at best. Just trying to locate the works and then obtain reproduction quality photographs is a time consuming and, at times, an almost impossible task. Not everyone is willing to have their works photographed and many just do not want to take the time to do it … this is just one of the many hurdles that needs to be overcome.
I know your next question – this is all well and good, but how long does it take to research and produce a catalogue raisonné? The time frame usually given is about 15 years, but some projects, dealing with more obscure artists can go on for 20 years or more. However, in the end, these books are one of the best ways for individual buyers/collectors/dealers to be sure that the work they are looking at is genuine.
Many of you know that we are currently working on a number of catalogue raisonnés – the first two have been going on for the last 12 years and while we are close to publishing the ‘first’ volume on Julien Dupré, it will be far from complete. We are always learning about new works that have been in private hands for generations and discovering bits and pieces about his life and family … as time goes on we will continue to learn more; and this will make for an interesting sequel.
I can tell you that we did have a stroke of luck with our Julien Dupré project … the artist was kind enough to keep an account book of every painting he sold during his lifetime and a few years ago we were lucky to find it. The real kicker was that the account book was owned by the individual who wrote the catalogue raisonné on Jules Dupré – the Barbizon artist. When we first began our project we wrote to this individual asking if they had any information they could share on Julien Dupré … the answer was no! We had to wait until she passed away to find out that this book was in her possession … so much for professional courtesy in the art worldJ! While we now know the exact number of paintings Julien Dupré sold (sorry, you will have to wait until the book is published to find out), we did determine that we have only found about 30% of themL -- glad I am still a ‘young man’!
We are pleased to announce that the gallery will now be exhibiting the Realist works of John Kuhn. A Kansas native, John has been actively exhibiting his works throughout the Midwest for some 25 years. Through a chance meeting with a mutual friend, we were introduced to his work and immediately knew it was something we wanted to learn more about.
John was born in 1948 and grew up in the town of Hutchinson, Kansas. Fortunate enough to have nurturing parents he was encouraged to draw and study art, something he displayed an early talent for. John took the usual art classes in Jr. High and Sr. High and as he has recently relayed to us: … made Jackson Pollock paintings in the basement, gave cartoons and drawings to friends (some of which has embarrassingly resurfaced recently).
John’s life has been an interesting one and we welcome you to visit our web site to explore his art and learn more about his life – I trust you will all enjoy it.
Howard L. Rehs
© Rehs Galleries, Inc., New York City – February 2004
Gallery Updates: The gallery is back on its normal schedule – Monday through Friday 10:00am – 5:30pm. Since our last update we have added works by a number of artists to our web site, including those by Auguste Bonheur, Adrien Moreau, Pieter Gerardus Van Os, Albert Tibule Furcy de Lavault, Édouard Cortès, Antoine Blanchard, Gregory Frank Harris and John Kuhn.
While this is not for another couple of months, the gallery will also be exhibiting at the Chicago Botanical Antiques Show from April 16th – 18th. If you are in the neighborhood, please stop by for a visit; we will have some exciting works on display.
Virtual Exhibitions: This month we have updated Rehs Galleries: A Visual History with a season appropriate winter scene by the Russian artist Ivan F. Choultse (b.1877) titled Nuit de Mars, Russie. I think you will all enjoy seeing this starlit snow covered landscape.
Ivan F. Choultse - Nuit de Mars, Russie
Since our last update we have sold a number of paintings by many of our favorite artists. Images of most of these works have been added to their respective Virtual Exhibitions; among them were: Daniel Ridgway Knight’s important work Sur la Terrasse that features his models Maria and Madeleine; Sally Swatland’s The Shore of Long Island, Summer Friends and Low Tide Reflections; Gregory Frank Harris’ The Chinese Jar and Still Life of Lilacs & Azaleas; Antoine Blanchard’s Champs-Elysees, Place de la Bastille, Rue de la Paix (Opera) and Théâtre des Variétés; Edouard Cortes’ unusual Paris scene of Quai des Tournelles; and Jean Charles Cazin’s Village of Moulins.
Next Month: I will discuss the problem of multiple catalogue raisonnés! Oh no, you mean there can be more than one?