“Portrait of Miss Sarah Helen Rollins, 1826-1904,” (1837), an oil on canvas painting measuring 60 x 32” by George Caleb Bingham (courtesy Rachael Cozad Fine Art / photo by Dan Wayne)
Catalogue raisonnés are extremely important tools for art historical research, widely used by dealers, curators, scholars and collectors around the world. Dedicated to a single artist, these volumes offer descriptions and (if available) photographs of every known work. But their most essential function is confirming the authenticity of the artist’s output. Since these records need to be revised when new or missing works are discovered, publications can quickly become out of date. While vital for deep-dive investigations, particular tomes may be hard to locate, unwieldy or very expensive. (The 33-volume catalogue raisonné for Picasso is probably the most extreme example; it was priced at $20,000 when it was reprinted in 2014.)
The recent announcement by the Riverbank Foundation that the George Caleb Bingham catalogue raisonné is in the process of being converted to an online format is welcome news. And even more gratifying, all the information will be accessible to anyone who seeks it, free of charge. (www.binghamcatalogue.org)
Private dealer and consultant Rachael Cozad, president of the Foundation and owner of Rachael Cozad Fine Art, recalled her own personal tipping point. A Bingham expert, she had been contacted by the owner of a Bingham landscape that was included in the printed version of the catalogue compiled by E. Maurice Bloch and published in 1986.
Although its description was accompanied by a photograph, the black and white illustration of the painting was so grainy that she felt reluctant to get involved with its possible sale. However, when she saw the painting firsthand — its beauty clearly not conveyed by its reproduction —she realized how crucial it was for this reference to be updated with high-resolution color photography.
Bingham painted approximately 600 works but only signed about 5% of them. At this writing, only about 150 works have been posted online with new images. One may search by a sitter’s family name or the type of subject matter. As the project progresses, there will likely be additional ways in which one may filter the information.
Cozad affirmed that the project is so important for “all the families who come forward with paintings they have been wondering about because they weren’t included in Bloch (catalogue).” A submission process is outlined on the site, detailing what information is needed before it can be reviewed by the committee. Independent art historian Fred R. Kline acts as the editor for the project, and since 2005, he has consulted with an advisory board when identifying and authenticating unrecorded works. Other board members are Brian T. Allen, former director and curator of the New York Historical Society, Addison Gallery of American Art and other institutions, and endowed professor of American Art at the University of Arkansas School of Art, Jennifer A. Greenhill.
The Riverbank Foundation is continuing to raise money to fund the online catalogue raisonné, its major endeavor. Cozad is optimistic about its future for many reasons. “I am hopeful that once we get beyond the mechanics of getting all the paintings entered with the best possible photos that we can make the project more interactive and meaningful for people who are studying American art.”