Catalogue Raisonné – A Collector’s Guide
#ARTWISEUP by SAL McINTYRE
MARCH 28, 2019 

The practice of art collecting can be as overwhelming as it is exhilarating, especially when you begin to do research about an artist in whom you have taken a keen interest. It can feel like the more you learn, the more it seems you need to learn in order to make sense of an often chaotic and shall we say artistic lifespan of work. For many of the world’s biggest names, this research has already been done, sometimes by large teams of people compiling with the highest degree of accuracy possible, creating exhaustive published records of every work completed by a particular artist. These hard copy books, called a catalogue raisonné, are beautiful works themselves, representing an art historian’s dedication to the deep appreciation of an artist’s oeuvre in its entirety.

For the world of printmaking, the aim of these books is to present all of the information available about where and when a work was made, how many prints were in the edition and if there were Artist’s Proofs or Printer’s Proofs, how many were signed or stamped, if the piece was designed by the artist or by the printer and even details about the type of paper used. The catalogues are so comprehensive that they present a reliable identification source that can be referenced by any third party, and are agreed on to be the definitive word. For a collector, not only do these books offer a wildly diverse tour through a favorite artist’s complete range of expression in a particular medium, but they also offer a critical component of authenticity— if it is not in the book, then it is not likely to be real.

Pablo Picasso – Picasso In His Posters - Image and Work, book 1992

Picasso made so many posters it took Luis Carlos Rodrigo two enormous volumes of over 600 pages each to archive them all, titled Picasso In His Posters - Image and Work, this a first edition printing. He begins the book with historical anecdotes on posters and then puts Picasso’s posters within this context, describing in great detail the levels of classification by which Picasso’s methods can be organised. He paints a sweeping establishing picture, so to speak, after which a thrilling up-close exposé of all of the Picasso details for which we love him can be explored. With its magnetic large full-page presentation, this is the kind of collection that has the mysterious power to reveal new pieces each time the book is opened. As these prints disperse throughout the world and disappear into the depths of private collections, you simply will not see this kind of wholeness in any other place or time.

Pablo Picasso – Picasso In His Posters - Image and Work, book interior pages

Andy Warhol Prints, with over 390 illustrations and full documentation, is a catalogue that presents Warhol’s complete silkscreen print production from his first unique works on paper in 1962 through early 1985 while he was still churning them out. Great efforts were made in service of accuracy and comprehensiveness, and the work was overseen by Warhol himself as the photographing and notation took place, even of many printing proofs and color changes. This catalogue is a must-have for any Warhol aficionados.

Leafing through this book can be done at the meditative pace that lends itself to art appreciation, and as such the purity of Warhol’s genius is reignited.

Each different color scheme he chose for the same subject becomes suddenly brilliant again, and it is easy to understand why his work has had such an enduring appeal. This portrayal is even arguably a glimpse into this enigmatic figure’s personal world, with a stream of his visual work posing as almost an autobiography, revealing a quiet intimate tour through an inner life that feels in direct contrast to a famously high-visibility public existence.
Andy Warhol – Andy Warhol Prints, book 1985
Andy Warhol – Andy Warhol Prints, book interior pages
"For a collector, not only do these books offer a wildly diverse tour through a favorite artist’s complete range of expression in a particular medium, but they also offer a critical component of authenticity..."

Many times these gorgeously printed catalogues will have original stone lithographs included, made by the artist specifically for the publication. For Bolivian artist Graciela Rodo Boulanger, her exquisite sensitivities and humor can be seen in eight loose book-sized prints ready to grace empty walls as a series. Furthermore, the mainly black and white illustrations in the book, which shows all her prints from 1961-1972, lend an elegant and somber quality to her work, calling attention to the delicate mood infused within her unique style. The book has sophisticated classic typography, is cloth bound and completed with artistic natural brown endpaper, making the entirety an object of beauty in and of itself.

Boulanger – Rodo Boulanger Gravures 1961-1972, book 1973
Boulanger – Rodo Boulanger Gravures 1961-1972, book interior pages
And for Chagall lovers, Marc Chagall's Posters Catalogue Raisonné
is going to be a staple in the library. A lovely essay at the opening talks of the history of the art poster and how Chagall's entrance into that world, though late in his career, was destiny— a perfect fit for a pioneering visionary inspired by a historically early expressiveness, and experimenting with a style entirely different from French painting of the time. There is also mention of Chagall's artistry in the face of commercialism, a refreshing and inventive contrast to the mainstream industry of poster art. With gorgeous full-page color lithograph reproductions of all the printings officially signed and numbered by Chagall, often paired with fascinating anecdotes surrounding the creation of the original work, observing the true mastery of his unique talent is unmissable.
Marc Chagall – Marc Chagall's Posters Catalogue Raisonné, book 1975

This is just a brief look into the many catalogue raisonné books to peruse in our collection, an introduction to a layered field in the art world of which you may not have yet investigated. In addition to providing complete medium-specific retrospectives of some of art history’s most important figures, these books present compelling forces of expression akin to a tidal wave of an artist’s particular timbre of voice— an incomparable way to experience the presence of a visionary creator.

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