What About Existing Catalogue Raisonnés?
This month I will continue to explore the ‘catalogue raisonné’ topic with some thoughts on existing catalogue raisonnés. Over the years, many of the more important artists have been the topic of catalogue raisonnés, some even more than one. It would be very nice if every artist not only kept detailed records of every work they created, but photographed and placed them in a book for future reference … but this is not the case. At best, they may have kept records of the paintings they sold (as we have found with Julien Dupré); and some of their works may have been photographed – most likely by the dealers who handled their work. But unless the artist numbered each work to correspond to a record and those numbers are still attached to the work, one cannot even be 100% sure that a work they are looking at is the exact one noted. These are just some of the reasons why catalogue raisonné projects are begun.
But what about those artists who already have a catalogue raisonné -- why do we need another? The issue here is that some of these raisonnés, while done to the best of the individuals abilities at the time, contain works that, since that time, have turned out not to be by the artist in question. Then there are those authentic works that were not known to exist and have only recently surfaced. It is important to make the necessary revisions.
A great case in point is the artist Rembrandt (the subject of a nice article in the February issue of ARTnews). About 30 years ago the Rembrandt Research Project was begun … their purpose, to determine which works that are currently attributed to the artist are genuine and which are not. Before I discuss their project, here is a little history on the Rembrandt saga. The first attempt at listing ‘all’ the genuine works was by Cornelis Hofstede de Groot and Wilhelm von Bode, who, between 1897and 1905, listed 595 paintings as valid works in their 8 volume raisonné. Wilhelm Valentiner, in his 1921 work, expanded the known works to 711 – I am sure this made a number of people very happy. In 1935 Abraham Bredius came out with his revised catalogue listing just 630 – uh oh, the owners of 81 works must have been a little upset. In 1966 Kurt Bauch released his catalogue and now the count was down to 562 – another group of unhappy owners has emerged. Then in 1968 Horst Gerson revised Bredius’s 1935 catalogue and paired it down to 420 original works, with an additional 100 works that he was hesitant of – the biggest cut to date, knocking out another 142 works – leaving a lot of unhappy ‘Rembrandt’ owners.
The problem that faced/faces these experts was/is that only a handful of paintings by Rembrandt still retain an impeccable line of provenance (ownership history). Since the artist had a studio and a number of artists working with/for him, it is very difficult, some 200 – 250 years later, to trace the lineage of many of the works or to even be 100% sure that a work is totally by the hand of Rembrandt.
In 1968 the Rembrandt Research Project was begun, funded by the Netherlands’ government. The group worked in pairs, examining each known painting and discussing them until a final decision was reached. Many hours of research and study went into each work and volumes of material were amassed. They broke down the works into 3 categories ‘A’ for authentic works, ‘B’ for suspicious works, and ‘C’ for those they did not believe were by the artist. 14 years later they released their first volume – covering the artists paintings from 1625 – 1631. In 1986 volume II appeared – covering the years from 1632 – 1634, and in 1989 (20 years after the project began) volume III arrived, covering the last years of the 1630s. In total, these three volumes list 280 pictures, of those, 146 made the ‘A’ list, 12 made the ‘B’ list, and the balance were placed on the ‘C’ list. However, Rembrandt died in 1669, so there is still 29 years of material yet to be released.
The committee now states that by the time the final volumes are released (which will bring the total to five), the number of ‘authentic’ works by Rembrandt will be about 300! A far cry from the 595 originally listed in Groot and Bode’s work and a blow to many collector’s and museum curators’ egos and pocketbooks! The Wallace Collection in London, who once could claim ownership of 12 works, now, according to the Rembrandt Research Project, only has one authentic painting – Titus, the Artist’s Son (c.1657).
It is interesting to note that after so many years of working together, certain members of the existing committee have begun to change their opinion about certain works – oh no ... here we go again! The committee made it known at one point that ‘Rembrandt’s The Polish Rider was on the outs, however, in the early 1990s Van de Wetering (the current head of the committee) actually got to see the painting up-close and personal … in the right light and under magnification and now believes that Rembrandt probably began the work and it was finished by a less competent artist.
So now you may wonder, what happens to all the works that were originally thought to be autograph works by Rembrandt? Many will now fall into the category of ‘Attributed to’ or ‘Studio of’ works … paintings that may have been done by the artist or overseen by the artist, but not actually by his hand. Some are probably by other important artists from the period and some by quite possibly ‘never-to-be-known’ artists of the 17th century.
The story behind this project is even more eventful than I could summarize here, and I recommend picking up the February edition of ARTnews if you want more information. However, what you should come away with is that trying to piece together the works of an artist, after they have died, is a very difficult task and to try to put together all the works of an artist like Rembrandt … who died over 300 years ago is an almost impossible one. What these projects accomplish is to give people a good foundation to build upon in the future … as is the case for Rembrandt --- a building process that has been going on for more than 100 years.
I am sure you want to know - how all of this affects a work’s value? As the Artnews article points out, in 1988 Bearded Man Standing in an Archway was being offered for sale at auction. At that time the committee let it be known that the painting was going to be rejected in a future volume and it was sold as ‘attributed to Rembrandt’. Had the work been an authentic painting, it would have carried and estimate of $4 million to $6 million … as an ‘attributed’ work it carried and estimate of $800,000 - $1.2 million and sold for $800,000. Still a nice price for a work that in 1988 was only ‘attributed to’ the artist. Now for the funny part (depending on which side of this coin you are on) … today, Van de Wetering has changed his opinion … believing it to be the mate to Rembrandt’s portrait of Maria Trip, however, he also believes that while Rembrandt conceived the work, 90% of the finished painting is not by Rembrandt’s hand … guess the only way we will find out how that change of opinion affects the value is, if the work comes back on the market!
On a side note, after writing this article I received my copy of the March issue of Artnews … and here we go again. The works of Francisco de Goya y Lucientes (know as Goya to most) are in the spotlight, with some experts looking to knock out a number of currently accepted works … some of which those of you who took art history classes would have studied – including The Colossus (c.1811) and Saturn (1820-24). This should be interesting!
The main reasons a majority of the attribution, de-attribution and re-attribution problems appear in the Old Master market is that it was not only very common for the ‘master’, in his atelier, to have employed other artists to work on paintings he received commissions for, but it was common practice for an artist not to sign his paintings … a custom that, we are glad to tell you, was not continued by many of the 19th century artists.
Price per Square Inch!
I am always amused by people who try to price a painting by the square inch … there is so much more that must go into the equation, but some people just cannot see past size and price. So, here is one for you ‘square-inchers’ to ponder. It was recently revealed that the National Gallery (UK) bought The Duke of Northumberland’s Madonna and Child by Raphael (c.1506/07) for $41.5 million. The reason I bring this up is that the painting measures a mere 11.4 x 9 inches … that works out to $404,483.43 per square inch (psi). However, if we take into account that the Getty Museum had offered $63 million for the work, but withdrew its application for the export license once the British Government was involved, and that the $41.5 million included some tax benefits to equal the Getty’s offer … the real price per square inch should be $614,035.09.
Now if we look at the most expensive paintings by Raphael to have appeared at auction in the last 10 years – a 14.3 x 13.6 inch drawing made $8.7 million ($44,736.67 psi) in 1996 and two oil paintings, one 15 x 5.7 inches – of St. Catherine of Alexandria – made $1.67 million ($19,532.16 psi) in 1991; and a 14.9 x 5.6 oil painting of St. Mary of Egypt sold of $611,000 ($7,322.62 psi) in 2000 – the last and most recent is equivalent to just one square inch of the Getty’s offer for the Madonna & Child painting! If you evaluated the work based on just the psi numbers, you would think that the U.K. Government seriously overpaid for the work; but what they did, was purchase an incredibly important and rare example of Raphael’s work for a fair price.
Please remember, that many great works of art never appear at auction and what really matters is what is on the canvas – not just how big it is!
Howard L. Rehs
Gallery Updates: Please remember that we will be exhibiting at the Chicago Botanical Antiques Show (Glencoe, IL) from April 16th – 18th; just a few short weeks from now! If you are in the area, please stop by for a visit; we will have some exciting works on display.
Virtual Exhibitions: Since our last update we have sold a number of important paintings by many of our favorite artists; among them were important works by Daniel Ridgway Knight, Jean Charles Cazin, Adrien Moreau, Louis de Schryver, Edouard Cortès, Karl Witkowski, Jean P. Haag, Oliver Clare, four by Sally Swatland, and Heidi Coutu. Images of most of these works have been added to their respective Virtual Exhibitions.
Next Month: I will discuss … not sure yet, but I am working on it!!