- Until 15 May 2020
- 10:00 – 5:00 pm
Drawing Room, Paul Mellon Centre
The term catalogue raisonné refers to a publication that offers a thorough, reasoned, and systematic documentation of all works by an artist in a given medium. Over its fifty-year history, the Paul Mellon Centre (PMC) has supported the publication of more than twenty such catalogues. These have largely been devoted to canonical – and up to now, exclusively male – British artists from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, including Turner, Constable, Reynolds, Gainsborough, Stubbs, and Hogarth. On occasion, they have also addressed the work of famous artists whose careers spanned other periods, or who, though-foreign born, settled in Britain for much of their career – these have included catalogues on Van Dyck and John Singer Sargent, who occupy both of these categories. And, more recently, they have begun to embrace digital as well as printed forms of publication, and to document the work of practitioners who fall outside the familiar canon of British artists – as is the case with Richard Stephens’ online catalogue of the works of the watercolourist Francis Towne, published in 2016.
These catalogues have not only been a centrepiece of the Centre’s publications programme, they have also been foundational in the field of British art studies more generally, providing authoritative and scholarly points of reference for all those interested in the work of Britain’s most celebrated painters. This remains the case, even though the catalogue raisonné has, in recent years, come under ever-greater methodological scrutiny, and been criticised for, among other things, reinforcing problematic notions of a (largely masculine) artistic canon. The Centre, rather than ignoring such criticisms, is keen to address them, as it takes on the challenge of producing new kinds of catalogues raisonnés that respond to the concerns of contemporary art-historical scholarship.
Whatever the resultant publications, they will require – as has always been the case with the catalogues raisonnés – a great deal of work, devotion, and imagination on the part of their producers and supporters. This display and accompanying booklet look back across the history of the PMC’s catalogues raisonnés in order to suggest the challenges faced by those who write, edit, and publish such works, and to reveal the complex, often unheralded, intellectual labour that goes into their production – typically for many years.