What is a catalogue raisonné?

The purpose of a catalogue raisonné is to document all the works by a given artist. Almost anyone – ranging from artists themselves to dealers, curators and scholars, not to mention general laypersons – who wants to know almost anything about a particular artist’s oeuvre should be able to find it somewhere in a catalogue raisonné.

In setting out an artist’s entire oeuvre a catalogue raisonné de facto authenticates the works. In cases where the dating of the corpus or parts of it is uncertain or unknown the catalogue raisonné’s scholarship serves to establish a firmer chronology.

Catalogues raisonnés may exist in book (whether single or multiple volumes) and/or digital formats. When new works are discovered after the publication of a catalogue raisonné, they may prompt a supplementary volume. The artist in question might be dead or, more rarely, still living. Entries for each work should be accompanied by a reproduction and such factual information as title, dates, dimensions, provenance, exhibition history, references in the literature, and so forth. It is advisable that a catalogue raisonné also contain a substantial introductory text that explains the essential characteristics, evolution and interpretation of the works in question.

The author/editor(s) of the catalogue raisonné should ideally have no financial interest in the works being catalogued, although in practice this is sometimes not the case.

Lastly, the overall goals of any catalogue raisonné are comprehensiveness, clarity and authoritativeness.

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