The Letters of Picasso’s Dealer and a Century’s Worth of Impressionist Archives Are Going Online
The Wildenstein Plattner Institute is digitizing historical documents they say will be "a game changer."
Art historians and dealers researching works of art will soon have a new trove of materials to work with, courtesy of the Wildenstein Plattner Institute (WPI).
A century’s worth of documentation from WPI—featuring materials like stock books from art galleries, artists’ correspondence, and annotated sale catalogues—will be digitized to develop online catalogues raisonnés (a comprehensive list of an artist’s known works) for artists including Edouard Manet, Berthe Morisot, and Claude Monet. And though most of the artists already have catalogues in print, the digital versions will reflect new scholarship and can be updated on an ongoing basis.
“The exciting thing about the archive is that there are materials here that were long thought to have been destroyed, and others that have not been available to the public at large, so this is an important development for art historians, dealers, and provenance researchers,” Elizabeth Gorayeb, WPI’s executive director, told artnet News.
In 2016, art dealer Guy Wildenstein’s eponymous institute joined forces with German collector and technology entrepreneur Hasso Plattner to establish WPI. The newly formed institute published a five-volume catalogue raisonné of the work of Jasper Johns earlier this year, but its specific plans for online publishing have not been made public until now.
Based in New York, Gorayeb is currently in Paris setting up a WPI office—which will house the archival materials—and beginning to develop a database.
Among the records, she said, are the archives of legendary Paris art dealer Ambroise Vollard, who dealt in the work of artists including Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Paul Cézanne. Also included are the files of art historian Henri Certigny, who conducted extensive research on the artist Henri Rousseau. The files will vastly expand what are now very limited resources for Rousseau researchers or dealers, she said. The shortage of historical documents on Rousseau has hobbled not only research on the artist but also the development of his market.
While it’s hard to promise a timeline so early in the project, Gorayeb said, a listing of materials in the WPI archive will be published by the end of 2018. The catalogues raisonnés will also be available free to the public in the coming years. (For copyright and intellectual property reasons, some documents will remain confidential, Gorayeb says, but a full list of documents will be public to all, enabling researchers to submit requests for more specific information.)
In the meantime, for fees ranging from $500 to $2,000, art historians and dealers can gain early access to information from WPI’s files and find out if an artwork will be included in a particular catalogue raisonné. “So, for example, for an auction house specialist researching a work that may soon go to market, that will be a game changer,” said Gorayeb.
(After the archives are made public, WPI will charge only to issue a statement that confirms a particular work is the same as that published in the catalogue.)
In Gorayeb’s view, a non-profit is the best entity to publish catalogues raisonnés because the WPI has no financial stake in the market for any artist. “We’re not betting on any particular horse,” she said, “so we have a degree of autonomy that dealers don’t have.”
Online catalogues raisonnés have become increasingly popular in recent years as scholarship moves online. The set-up allows for updates to be made quickly, which is particularly useful as collectors become more litigious over matters of authentication. Other publishers of online catalogues include Artifex Press, which offers catalogues for artists including Chuck Close and Agnes Martin.
As for WPI’s archive, Gorayeb believes it has only just begun to deliver rewards. “As we go through the boxes,” she predicted, “there will be more great finds.”
Update, August 2: This article has been updated to clarify that while the catalogues raisonnés and a full list of archival material will be digitized and available to the public for free in the coming years, some archives will only be accessible upon request.
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